The SPL relegation battles are rarely without incident, writes Neil Forsyth
Nothing marks the Scottish Premier League’s character more than the manner of its departing. For three years now the nation’s uppermost collection of professional football clubs have ended their season in squabbling and intrigue that has left most fans watching events through their fingers in embarrassment.
May 2003 saw Falkirk battle forlornly for the chance to enter the league after capturing the First Division championship. The ludicrous SPL ground requirements then in place saw their challenge fail. Last year Partick Thistle departed for the First Division in an almighty huff after Inverness Caledonian Thistle were first denied and then granted the right to replace them, again in a grounds row.
This summer has seen Livingston’s since-departed Moroccan striker Hassan Kachloul as the catalyst for yet another row that has thrown doubt over the relegation issue – this time the demotion of bottom club Dundee. Kachloul was signed in March, after the transfer window, thanks to him being registered as an amateur, despite receiving a salary, a car and a flat in return for a role as a “business development officer”.
In the final round of SPL fixtures four clubs – Dundee, Dundee United, Livingston and Dunfermline – faced potential relegation. Ninety minutes later it was Dundee, only a year out of administration, that went down, with Livingston finishing two points clear and Dunfermline in between.
In the days that followed, the Kachloul story broke. Livingston came out fighting but so did Dundee, demanding a points deduction that would see Livingston slip back beneath them in the final standings. Livingston, however, had a couple of aces up their sleeve.
To begin with, they were not the first to take this rather dubious approach to player recruitment, with Kilmarnock having signed Simon Ford on a strikingly similar deal. Second, Livvy had not only alerted the SPL to the deal that they had struck with Kachloul but had received some level of guidance from the organisation as to how to act within the rules.
Dundee’s case was wilting, but they pressed on. Clearly, Dundee had a duty to both shareholders and supporters to ask for an enquiry. It was their response to the £15,000 fine and censure received by Livingston that stretched the goodwill of many, owner Peter Marr declaring the decision to be a “charter for cheats”. This from the man who led Dundee on a spending spree with money that simply wasn’t there. When the dream ended in November 2003 it did so spectacularly – 25 players and members of staff sacked, the youth team scrapped, local businesses left unpaid and supporters being asked to raise money to keep the club in business.
Meanwhile Partick Thistle, a club who put a basic wage ceiling of £500 a week on their playing staff, were untidily relegated the following May and now face possible oblivion of their own after falling another division this year. Perhaps Dundee’s “experiment” (as it was termed by Marr) could be viewed as being as much hopelessly overambitious as immoral, but virtue it certainly lacked.
Supporters have been left in a quandary. Continue to fight the good fight knowing that a genuine option is bankruptcy, or urge the club to salvage some remnant of dignity by accepting the judgement of their peers? Opinions have been mixed on message boards and radio phone-ins. Yet from the board the line of determined petulance continues unchecked.
In a final, cringeworthy turn, Dundee have threatened to cause an SPL opening-day fixture dilemma by refusing to move their Challenge Cup tie to avoid clashing with neighbours Dundee United’s game with Aberdeen due to their “ongoing matter concerning the SPL”. It is not just the beleaguered SPL who are wishing for the overdue arrival of reason into the Dens Park boardroom.
From WSC 222 August 2005. What was happening this month