Even by the standards of the Scottish League, Airdrie have sailed appalingly close to extinction in recent weeks. Ken Gall looks for someone to blame and comes up with a cast of thousands
While attention in Scotland was fixed, as ever, on the Old Firm, the real poignancy – again, as ever – lay elsewhere; at New Broomfield, the home of Airdrieonians FC, where a major financial crisis looked likely to put an end to more than a century of senior football. The Diamonds, and their putative financial and footballing saviour Steve Archibald, appeared to be on the verge of a potentially fatal defeat at the hands of the mean-spirited and seemingly impregnable defence of the club’s appointed liquidators, KPMG. The story, however, may be slightly less straightforward.
Airdrie’s story – one of bad luck, bad choices and unrealised ambition – could be merely the precursor to a raft of similar desperate tales, as the realisation dawns on financial institutions and creditors that too many Scottish clubs are struggling to maintain or build all-seated stadiums and full-time squads on paltry crowds and insufficient commercial income
The reason for the imposition of the death warrant at Airdrie was simple. KPMG’s doubts over the viability of Archibald’s supposed £2 million rescue package – which were well established – had been intensified by arrears of £30,000 in the weekly payments agreed by both parties. The liquidators – not known for their benevolence towards those with good intentions but no hard cash – tapped their watches, sucked on their teeth and, finally, sacked Archibald from his position as preferred buyer of the club.
Newspaper pictures of policemen, riot sticks close at hand, barring the players’ way into the stadium while a suitably tight-lipped and ashen-faced Archibald attempted to negotiate training rights for them from KPMG seemed to tell their own story. The consequences were brisk. Airdrie, unable to fulfil their fixtures, withdrew from the Scottish Cup, allowing Peterhead a bye into a potentially lucrative quarter-final tie. The club’s subsequent two league fixtures were also postponed. The Scottish League made reassuring noises, but it was clear that such an arrangement could not continue indefinitely.
The 2,000 or so hardcore Airdrie fans had, to all intents and purposes, nailed their colours to Archibald’s mast some time before. Their unbending faith – as shown by a noisy picket of KPMG’s Glasgow offices in support of the former Barcelona man – seemed at odds with KPMG’s suggestions that the club’s financial crisis had in fact worsened following his involvement. Indeed, the Daily Record’s star columnist James Traynor – an Airdrie man – turned his gloomy gaze briefly away from Ibrox and Celtic Park to castigate Archibald for his handling of the affair.
The club’s fateful first step towards the abyss looked, at the time, to have been the only wise choice to make. The abandonment to the bulldozer some years previously of the club’s intimidating, if knackered, Broomfield Park and the construction of the shiny, new stadium was meant to provide the facilities necessary for the SPL. Unfortunately, the subsequent promotion did not materialise, the bills started to mount and the modern new stadium started to take on the appearance of a graveyard.
Identifying the bad guy in this sad tale is proving to be puzzling. Is it KPMG? It is, after all, easy to portray the company as a bunch of heartless, faceless suits, selling off the trainer’s sponge and the corner flags to pay off grasping creditors. Or is it Archibald, whose long experience of the informal financing of football may have left him unprepared for dealing with a firm of professional liquidators?
Some Airdrie fans point the finger of blame at Ayr United chairman Bill Barr, who is owed in the region of £40,000 by the club. Barr has earned some of his income from building new stands and stadiums for Scottish clubs, Airdrie among them. His own club’s Somerset Park remains blissfully unmodernised; what does Barr know that others do not?
With Archibald restating his commitment to the club and two other (unnamed) potential buyers in the background, Airdrie may yet have a future. But even if they do, the sad truth is that a historic Scottish club could go to the wall for the sake of an amount of money that the Old Firm are prepared to write off in wages for whingeing wasters like Marco Negri and Eyal Berkovic. And, regardless of the club’s fate, dozens of buses will leave Airdrie each weekend for Ibrox and Celtic Park, packed with fans who would rather contribute to those ludicrous salaries than help their local club. This is Scottish football in the 21st century, as it was in the 20th.
From WSC 170 April 2001. What was happening this month