Gretna supporters have attempted to keep their club alive after their dramatic demise, reports Andy Fury
The small town of Annan in Dumfries and Galloway has seen several new footballing dawns recently. The most highly publicised is its own football club’s election to the Scottish Football League. Its other, rather ironically, is the resurrection of the club Annan Athletic replaced in Division Three, Gretna FC.
After their club went into liquidation at the end of last season, the Gretna Supporters’ Society acted to ensure that the village retained its team. The reformed side was hastily put together as Gretna FC 2008 Ltd, this time with a president elected democratically to prevent the issues that befell them under the ownership of Brooks Mileson.
After the club’s benefactor took ill in February 2008, with no power of attorney to continue funding the outrageously excessive wage bill, they slumped first into administration and then liquidation due to their single source of money being withdrawn. This led a club that had won three consecutive promotions from Division Three to go bust after only one season in the SPL.
Although the supporters hold the eventual ambition of returning to Raydale, the club’s home since their formation in 1946, they had to settle for the Everholm athletics complex in nearby Annan in the short term.
Gretna’s first competitive home fixture was a world away from their last, a 1-0 win in the Scottish Premier League against Hearts. In a cup game against fellow East of Scotland League side Craigroyston, the players mingled with supporters on the long walk from the changing facilities to the pitch, where they will play for “a year at most”.
Wilson Field, Gretna’s administrators, claim that they have received several bids for Raydale, although they are strangely yet to accept any. Local planning regulations state that the land must be used for sport and leisure, with the ruling set to be extended until 2015. The council has ruled out buying the stadium, but Gretna’s new chairman Anton Hodge has offered to rent it from any potential buyer on a matchday basis.
Although Gretna FC 2008 Ltd are now a non-League club playing in the East of Scotland League, the crowds are bigger than when they were playing in the English pyramid system. During their time in both the Unibond and Northern Leagues, it was rare for attendances to rise above 100. The cup tie against Craigroyston saw double that. It seems to be the same unusual mix of fans attending the post-resurrection matches as it was following them on their remarkable rise from the Third Division to the SPL, with a Scottish Cup final against Hearts in 2006, only lost on a penalty shootout, thrown in.
Everholm has so far seen visitors from as far afield as Wigan and London – at Gretna’s peak, Mileson boasted of setting up supporters’ clubs around the world. A respectable number that joined the bandwagon on the way up appear to be still clinging on as they’ve hurtled back down to earth.
While the club are currently run on an amateur basis, Anton Hodge says Gretna would welcome a cash injection but that it would “have to be entirely on our terms”, adding that he wants the club to belong to the village again. “Despite the success of the club over the last five years, there’s always been a feeling that it was being taken away from us. We want to reconnect with the community and try to repair the damage from the last few years.”
There is little envy towards their successors, Annan Athletic, other than them being a model of where the club would like to be at some stage: financially secure and with an eye on progression through the Scottish senior leagues. For now, though, ambition for Gretna FC 2008 extends no further than giving a village its football club back.
From WSC 260 October 2008