Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Scottish Football League finally showed some balls today in their dealings with Livingston Football Club, relegating them from the First to the Third Division and probably securing the Club's death in the process.

After weeks of uncertainty and wranglings, Livingston finally got what was coming to them and it's hard to feel any sympathy for them whatsoever.

The whole situation has been a farce for weeks and what we're left with now is a complete shambles, as the League campaign gets set to kick off in three days time.

To summarise for those not familiar with what's been happening and for the many of us that's found it hard to just keep track....

Livingston's ground is owned by West Lothian Council. They were due rent from the club for a figure which has varied between £270-330,000. The deadline of June 30th was not met and the court proceedings began, ending with the Club being placed into administration on July 24th by the Court of Session in Edinburgh. The Club now faced any or all of the following: points being deducted, relegation to the Second or Third Division, expulsion from the League altogether.

Then things get cloudy. A consortium bought owner Angelo Massone's shares for £50,000, after he refused their initial offer of £25,000. The consortium said they would rescue the Club but only if they remained in the First Division.

This caused outrage from the fans of other Clubs. You know, the ones who support teams that live within their means. Livingston had gone into administration previously, in 2004, and got away with it scot free. Surely this couldn't happen again. The SFL rules around clubs going into administration is certainly not as clear cut at the ones in place in England.

The SFL had asked the consortium to put up a bond of £720,000 to ensure that Livingston would fulfil their First Division fixtures for the season or to financially compensate the other Clubs if they couldn't. Again, the consortium weren't happy. Neither were the other member clubs.

This then led to today's meeting where all the clubs could discuss what to do about the situation, what penalty if any should be imposed and where we go from here. the result was the two division relegation. And that's us up to date - for now.

There's a number of points to address here.

First of all the consortium. They basically wanted to take on Livingston but not be held responsible for what had happened before and for the new ownership and the Club not to be punished. Where is the fairness in that? Why should other Clubs be punished when they may have failed to get promotion or suffered relegation because they refused to put their clubs into such serious debt as to make it go out of business?

You then have to look at the overall motives for the takeover. If all they really cared about was saving the Club as they protested, then surely saving it is all that matters, whatever division they may now be playing in.

It should be noted that at the time of writing they may well do that as they haven't said either way.

If there had been no punishment at all then it would have set a dangerous precedent. Other Clubs could do what they wanted, fly by the seat of their pants and know that they could walk away.

We're now also left with a farcical League situation that really makes the SFL look no better than a bush league outfit.

Airdrie and Cowdenbeath now find themselves promoted at three days notice. These Clubs, Airdrie in particular, have prepared for life in a lower division. Their players are for that level. They've sold season tickets based on lower division pricing. Their fans have planned their season and trips on the published fixtures.

Airdrie fans who were planning on seeing their side play at home to Arbroath on Saturday, now have to make a 352 mile round trip to Dingwall to play Ross County instead. Arbroath now travel to Cowdenbeath, who now have to plan for a home match when they were meant to be away to East Stirling. The Shire will now face Livingston or they may have no game at all.

What a complete and utter shambles.

Add to this the fact that if Livingston were to appeal then the whole SFL may have to be suspended for up to 42 days and you're just left shaking your head.

It's also sickening that once again Airdrie United, another Club we would happily see go defunct, avoid relegation because of another Club's misfortune.

Cowdenbeath's promotion gives East Fife another Fife derby, but not on the traditional local derby days. No we play Peterhead those days, which for those that don't know is miles and miles away!

There are rumours flying around this evening that Livingston will in fact pull out of the Scottish League altogether now. That then leaves the Third Division a Club down with only 9 taking part.

Although we wholeheartedly commend the SFL for taking the action they did, you have to ask why it has taken so long and why do it just before the season was due to start?

Would a points deduction have been better due to the circumstances? Possibly, but that still gives Livingston a chance to get out of things with little damage done and that just isn't on.

We first blogged about the Livingston situation on May 15th! It was obvious then there was trouble ahead. That's when the SFL should have sought financial assurances, bonds or whatever from the Club. Set them a deadline of June 30th like the Council, then if nothing was forthcoming that gave 5-6 weeks to sort out the Leagues.

At times like these people always say "you never want to see a Club die". Bollocks to that. Livingston already killed a Club to exist today (Meadowbank Thistle in 1995). They achieved success based on living outwith their means and weren't punished before. Now they are getting what they deserve.

What about their poor fans I hear you say. They don't deserve to be punished. Well, you know what, a lot of them do. Their smugness when it looked like they were saved last week, along with their First Division status, was sickening. Their forums are full of victim posts without looking at the list of creditors that may not be getting their money now - including a council that needs money for local services.

They're accusing the other Clubs of being selfish and looking out for their own interests. Pot. Kettle. Black. They are putting the blame with Massone without realising that he's only had a small part to play in the Club being where they are. He sank his own money in to it and they need to look deeper and further back to the previous years of mismanagement.

They also need to realise that the SFL are giving them the chance to regroup and build their Club again on a solid footing that could allow them to have a long term future. The likes of Gretna and Airdrie didn't get that and the Livi fans should be thankful and look at going forward if they can. If they can't be saved then it would happen sooner rather than later anyway. A true fan will support their team in the First or the Third Division. Survival is all that matters.

This must be the end for Livingston now. I won't be shedding any tears and hopefully this will just serve as a lesson for other Clubs not to over extend themselves. In an ideal world, eh? Of course you know that won't happen.

The saga still rumbles on though, so who knows what tomorrow will bring and what other twists and turns lie ahead.

The joys of lower league Scottish football.

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