Monday 16 March ~
It’s now a distant memory, but when Clyde and Meadowbank Thistle packed their bags and headed for pastures new, it was supposed to signal the end of their troubles. With both clubs in severe financial difficulty and dwarfed in their original locations, it was thought that moving to the new towns of Cumbernauld and Livingston would allow them to escape their monetary woes and potentially add thousands to their fan bases. But March 2009 has seen Clyde chairman Ian Letham announce that the club needs to raise “a substantial amount” between now and the end of the season to safeguard its future. And Livingston’s players failed to receive their wages on time for the third month in succession.
Both clubs are teetering somewhere near the brink, although Livingston’s board members have been less than forthcoming about the problems they face. Indeed, shareholder Tomasso Angelini faced the press to declare: “There are no financial problems at the club.” This despite the late wages and a list of unpaid creditors reported to have included a mobile disco. It’s not quite up there with Peter Ridsdale’s goldfish, but it’s close. And while these bills are a legacy of the previous regime, the fact that several have ended up in the small claims court over the past few months suggests the club is still far from flush with cash. To compound matters, Livi’s Italian owners were forced to pay former chairman Pearse Flynn £330,000 in January. Fans are understandably worried, fearing a repeat of 2004, when the club entered administration and were eventually relegated from the SPL.
The crux of the problem for both teams, putting aside the general financial mismanagement, has been attracting the support to match their ambitions. Clyde’s average attendance is barely 1,000, the lowest in the First Division, and local interest in Livi has been on the wane since their SPL heyday, when they could boast gates of over 7,000. Gaining acceptance has been difficult for two sides that play in towns mainly comprised of overspill Old Firm followers. At a hastily arranged fans’ forum last week, Letham spoke of the strained relationship between Clyde and North Lanarkshire Council, owners of their Broadwood home. The tenant metaphor is a handy one – not being viewed as an entrenched part of the local community has made attracting sponsorship a problem.
A mooted solution for Clyde has been to relocate again, this time to East Kilbride, another new town. Although this is closer to the club's original Rutherglen heartland, it is unlikely that lost fans would be persuaded to return more than 20 years after Clyde's departure. More likely is that both sides will simply have to curtail their ambitions, at least in the short term. Clyde, particularly if they are relegated to the Second Division, face part-time football, as crowds will surely dwindle further. Livingston, for their part, may have to shelve plans for a swift and easy return to the SPL. It was, after all, an outrageous wage bill that led to their period of administration five years ago.
The one certainty is that it will fall upon committed and loyal fans to bail out their sides – the Clyde Supporters’ Trust has already raised over £300,000 since it was set up to deal with the club’s last financial crisis. But similar situations have shown that followers of all teams tend to pull together in times of need. Only the most uncharitable Scottish football supporter would wish to see their fellow fan without a team to watch. Stuart Gillespie