The Premier League is currently the least of Queen of the South’s worries. Jim Rutherford reports
IT'S A RARE DAY when Queen of the South steal the headlines in the Scottish press. But the Dumfries outfit enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame recently. Unfortunately, it came for all the wrong reasons as the club found themselves splashed all over the tabloids because of their manager’s marital problems.
It emerged that Rowan Alexander had split up with his wife and set up home at the club’s offices, where he was sleeping on a camp bed. As the Scottish Sun put it, Wife: It’s Football Or Me. Boss: I’ll Sleep At The Ground. With the team sitting second bottom of the Second Division and knocked out of the Scottish Cup by Ross County, there was worse to follow for Alexander the day after the story broke, when the board relieved him of his post after three years in charge.
It was a sorry end to a spell which had seen a run to the final of the Challenge Cup (the equivalent of the Auto Windscreens) in 1997 and a serious challenge for promotion to the First Division the same season. Those achievements had at least gone some way to injecting optimism into a club starved of celebrations for years.
Like all small Scottish clubs, any success for Queen of the South is a triumph over adversity. Back in the Thirties and Fifties, the club were regulars in Scottish football’s top flight, and in 1953 they even led the league until Christmas. But more recent times have seen a period of decline which has never looked likely to be reversed.
The club used to compete on a regular basis with the likes of Falkirk, Kilmarnock and St Johnstone, and they still aspire to First Division status. But while they have a large slice of Scotland to draw upon for support, they share the problem of all the clubs outside the central belt – convincing players to come here.
The fans heaped much of the blame on former chairman Willie Harkness, who ran the club for almost 30 years. By the beginning of the Nineties, crowds had dwindled to just a few hundred, who typically spent most of their afternoon shouting for Harkness to go. Eventually he obliged but left his successor with an enormous headache. Local chemist Norman Blount took over a club hopelessly ill-equipped to compete with the big boys, with a small home support and no guarantee of transfer fees for talented youngsters thanks to the Bosman ruling.
The plans for the Scottish Premier League could crush the last crumb of comfort for Queens supporters. Even if the Doonhamers unearthed the best talent in Scotland and returned to their glorious form of the Fifties they would be left out in the cold because their Palmerston Park stadium is a long way short of the standard required for entry.
There are, of course, more pressing concerns, like avoiding the drop into Third Division oblivion. Dodging relegation would be a great achievement for the temporary management team of experienced players George Rowe and Ken Eadie but it would still leave Queens with a tricky future.
The only chance, perhaps, is that as the big boys neglect the domestic market it will leave some young talent available for the rest. If more youngsters can be persuaded to play regularly at Palmerston rather than collecting fat cheques for sitting in the stand at Parkhead or Ibrox there is still a glimmer of hope. Otherwise, the only fame that awaits Queens is of the dubious kind visited upon them recently by the tabloid press.
From WSC 145 March 1999. What was happening this month