Building steadily in shadow of bigger rivals
30 September ~ Scotland's second tier was often the country's most exciting division even before this season's invasion by floundering heavyweights. Yet Rangers, Hearts and Hibs have already dropped points to the SPFL Championship's two part-time clubs: Dumbarton hosted Alloa on Saturday after both made major announcements regarding their stadiums. While unlikely to knock Liverpool's Anfield expansion off Sky Sports News, the Championship's "cannon fodder" are exceeding their modest ambitions. Those Scottish institutions embarrassed by reduced circumstances should pay attention.
Saturday's 3-1 loss dropped Alloa towards the relegation play-off spot Dumbarton had occupied at kick-off. This seems appropriate for clubs who only climbed back into the division two and three seasons ago respectively. But "The Sons" (of Dumbarton's famous rock) are unbeaten in four, recently held leaders Hearts and finished last season four points off the Premiership play-offs. Alloa's "Wasps" (after their traditional black and gold kit) beat Hibs in August and, in their last home fixture, scored their first goal against Rangers in 76 years.
Rangers were six minutes from a first ever loss to the club they defeated 7-0 in the 2012-13 Scottish Cup. The rate of improvement is what impresses most. Paul Hartley – now at Dundee and recently approached by Cardiff – managed Alloa from fourth tier to second in successive seasons from 2012. Dumbarton, managed by former Hibs and Rangers midfielder Ian Murray, are planning a new stadium. Their current one-stand, 2,000-capacity venue opened just 14 years ago.
Renton and Vale of Leven helped Dumbarton make West Dunbartonshire the world's football hotspot in the late Victorian era. However, since retaining Scotland's first League championship, the Sons haven't troubled the major honours. Situated on a former shipyard beneath the Rock's famous castle, their current stadium evokes history. It's the national team's pre-match training base. Yet, while Rangers host decreasing crowds amid supporter disaffection, Dumbarton are moving site to double their capacity and improve community involvement.
Alloa, now under former Dundee manager Barry Smith, reached the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup – unlike both Edinburgh clubs. Their modest 119-year-old Clackmannanshire home, Recreation Park, was recently renamed the Indodrill Stadium as part of a £100,000 sponsorship. Chairman Mike Mulraney described the deal, more than ten per cent of their annual turnover, as "windfall cash". Dumbarton's Bet Butler Stadium has never been without a sponsor. Cash-strapped Rangers recently announced Newcastle United and Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley had secured the Ibrox naming rights for just £1.
Hearts, Rangers and Hibs played live on TV over Sunday and Monday. Dumbarton and Alloa met at 3pm Saturday in front of 758 fans and no cameras. Yet Dumbarton's 20th-century stadium, Boghead, once doubled as the home of Robert Duvall's fictional Kilnockie FC, in the infamous movie A Shot at Glory. Starring current Rangers manager Ally McCoist – who proved a bubbly personality does not equate with great acting – Kilnockie achieve cup glory against, irony of ironies, Rangers. With Hamilton Academical's home-grown youths recently topping the Premiership in their two-sided stadium, Alloa and Dumbarton know dreaming small can create authentic happy endings. Alex Anderson