Liquidation and Relocation in Scottish Football (and how to deal with the history)

Cathkin Park – the old home of Third Lanark

With the Rangers situation continuing to dominate the headlines this summer, I thought it might be worth laying out the issues it may raise in terms of football trivia/statistics.  It is not my place to judge the goings on at Rangers FC over the last decade or so, and this piece is not about how the footballing authorities should deal with the newco.  Instead, I will focus on the thorny issue of how the newco should be dealt with in terms of football trivia/statistics.

There is not a great deal of precedent for the Rangers situation in Scottish football.  Since the demise of Third Lanark in 1967, only three clubs in the Scottish League have been liquidated – Airdrieonians, Gretna and Rangers. In addition to that, the names of Clydebank and Meadowbank Thistle disappeared from the Scottish footballing landscape after being bought out and moved elsewhere.

Other countries have dealt with “newco” situations differently.  In England, Crystal Palace and Plymouth were not punished after forming a newco, but both clubs had agreed CVAs.  Luton, Bournemouth, Rotherham and Leeds United all formed a newco without a CVA, and were punished with points deductions ranging from 15-20 points.  All of these clubs retained their histories.  But in the most recent case, Darlington formed a newco this summer and were forced to enter 4 tiers below where the old club played, with no indication yet about whether their history has been transferred.  In Italy, Napoli and Fiorentina were both allowed to keep their history after bankruptcy, but both were relegated (Fiorentina to the 4th tier, Napoli to the 3rd).

The history isn’t always retained though.  In Slovenia, Olimpija Ljubljana went bust in 2004, and their successor club had to enter at the lowest tier of Slovenian football and are considered by the FA to be a completely separate club.  There is also the curious case of Czech club Bohemians Prague, who went bust in 2005.  The fans created a new club, which entered the regional 3rd tier of Czech football, but another club, FC Strizkov bought the rights to the Bohemians logo and attempted to rebrand themselves.  In 2009/10, both “Bohemians” clubs played in the Czech top flight, before a court eventually decided that the latter club was not allowed to use the club name because they had no connection to the old Bohemians.

Different countries have different rule on liquidated football clubs, so all these foreign examples prove is that the situations surrounding “newco” clubs are never clear, and can often lead to protracted legal issues.  But what has happened in Scotland in the past?

Third Lanark (1967)

One of the most successful clubs in the early days of Scottish football, Third Lanark were liquidated in 1967 after being run into the ground by an unscrupulous owner, Bill Hiddleston.  No real attempt was made to “resurrect” the club at the time, and they simply ceased to exist.  Their old ground, Cathkin Park, only a short walk away from Hampden, remains as a gloomy reminder of their past.  In the 45 years since, there have been a few attempts to revive the name, and Third Lanark AC won the top flight of the Greater Glasgow Premier Amateur League this season.  This club is clearly not a continuation of the old club, but remains a fitting tribute to one of the historic names of Scottish football.

Meadowbank Thistle (1995)

The Scottish Football League did not replace Third Lanark after their liquidation, and instead continued with an 18-19 set-up for 7 years, before deciding that a reconstruction to create smaller divisions was necessary.  With a 10-14-14 set-up planned for 1975/76, there was a need for an extra team, and it was decided that they would be allowed to enter in 1974/75 to give them a year to get up to speed.  Ferranti Thistle of the East of Scotland league won the vote, and were renamed Meadowbank Thistle because of an SFL rule against sponsorship in club names (Ferranti was an engineering firm).  The club had only moderate success in their 21 years in Edinburgh, and following financial difficulties they relocated to Livingston in 1995 and were rebranded as Livingston FC.

The move was initially successful, with Livingston earning 3 promotions in 6 seasons to reach the SPL, where they finished 3rd in their debut season to qualify for Europe.  They also won the 2004 League Cup, beating Hibs 2-0 in the final.  But reality had already set in, with the club entering administration a month before that final.  Relegation followed in 2005/06, and the club again entered administration in 2009, coming close to liquidation before being saved at the 11th hour.  They were demoted to the 3rd Division due to doubts over their ability to fulfil their fixtures, but won consecutive promotions to get back to SFL1.

In terms of SFA membership, Livingston FC is a continuation of Meadowbank Thistle, but are they really the same club?  Few supporters followed the club from Edinburgh to West Lothian, and even the current Livingston website lists the history of each club separately, though they are all lumped together when it comes to counting club honours.  My approach has been to consider Livingston FC as a separate entity when providing statistics about their history and about meetings with other clubs.

Airdrieonians/Clydebank (2002)

The events of the summer of 2002 mean that the histories of these two clubs are intertwined, and it is difficult to discuss one without the other.  Airdrieonians were one of the oldest clubs in Scottish football, and spent much of their time yo-yoing between the top two tiers.  In 1994 they sold their Broomfield Stadium to Safeway, and groundshared with Clyde at Broadwood whilst looking for a location to build a new stadium.  In 1998 they moved to the Excelsior Stadium, which was build with a capacity of just over 10,000 in order to meet the SPL’s seating rules of the time.

The move led to significant financial difficulties for the club, and in 2000 KPMG were appointed as provisional liquidators.  Ironically, one of the issues which pushed the club to the edge was a move from then Rangers chairman David Murray to arrest the club’s potential income from a Scottish cup tie against Dundee United in order to pay a debt owed to one of his companies. Murray was quoted by the BBC as saying “I feel very sorry for Airdrie and their supporters but we’re running a business.”  At the end of the 2001/02 season, the club went out of business.

There was more than one incarnation of Clydebank FC in the SFL.  The first joined the league in 1914, but disbanded in 1931 following financial difficulties.  In 1964, the owners of East Stirling merged their club with Clydebank Juniors, and played the 1964/65 season in Clydebank under the name ES Clydebank.  This move was successfully challenged by the East Stirling fans, and their club returned to Falkirk for the following season.

Undeterred, a new Clydebank FC was formed in 1965 and entered the SFL for the 1966/67 season.  They spent 3 seasons in the top flight, and were famously sponsored by local band Wet Wet Wet in the early 90s.  In 1996, the owners sold their Kilbowie Stadium and the club had to ground share in Dumbarton and then Greenock.  The club entered administration in 2000, and supporters fought off various attempts to franchise their club in various locations, including Dublin and Carlisle.

When Airdrieonians were liquidated in 2002, local accountant Jim Ballantyne set up Airdrie United and applied for the SFL vacancy left behind by the former club.  Instead, the vacancy was filled by Gretna (more on them later), with the SFL clubs worried about the precedent that would be set by allowing a club to walk away from its debts and re-appear under a different name.  Ballantyne then took the controversial step of buying over Clydebank’s assets, and moving the club to Airdrie, where they were rebranded as Airdrie United.  The new Airdrie United have spent the last decade yo-yoing between the 1st and 2nd Divisions.

Clydebank fans created a new club, which entered the West Region of the Scottish Junior FA in 2003/04.  The new club have earned 3 promotions and now play in the West Super League Premier Division, where they finished 4th this season.  They also reached the final of the 2008/09 Scottish Junior Cup, losing 2-1 to Auchinleck Talbot in the final.

How do you define the histories of these two clubs?  If it goes by SFA membership, then Aidrie United are a continuation of Clydebank FC, but the club do not claim any connection with that club, nor do they claim the honours of Clydebank FC.  The history section of their club website lists the history of Airdrieonians, but does not actually claim to be a continuation of the club.  The club was officially founded in 2002.

In terms of memberships, the new Clydebank FC are a completely new club.  On their website, the history section mentions the previous clubs from the town of Clydebank, but focuses only on the history of the new club.  The honours page lists the honours of both the old Junior club (1899-1964) and the senior club (1965-2002).  It is unclear where these honours are being claimed as their own.

Again, my approach is to consider both the current Airdrie United and Clydebank FC as new clubs which were founded in 2002.  History doesn’t just dissapear, and neither set of fans will forget the memories of their old clubs, but neither set of histories can be officially attached to the current incarnations of their clubs.

Gretna FC (2008)

As mentioned earlier, Gretna FC were elected into the SFL in 2002 following the demise of Airdrieonians.  Although the club was based in Scotland, they had previously played in the English league system for geographical reasons.  Not long after their election to the SFL, they were taken over by a local eccentric, Brooks Mileson, who bankrolled their march through the leagues.  Between 2005 and 2007, the club secured three consecutive promotions to gain a place in the SPL.  They also reached the Scottish Cup final in 2006, losing on penalties to Hearts.  Due to Hearts qualifying for the Champions League that season, Gretna gained entry to the UEFA Cup whilst in the 1st Division, but they were thrashed 5-1 by Derry City at Fir Park (their ground, Raydale Park was unsuitable for Europe).

Fir Park would also be their home ground for their ill-fated SPL campaign in 2007/08 – the club entered administration mid-season after Brooks Mileson withdrew his financial support due to ill-health.  Gretna finished the season with a skeleton squad, and were relegated before the end of March.   At the SFL AGM, the club were unable to guarantee that they would fulfil their fixtures, and were relegated to the 3rd Division for the upcoming season.  A week later, they resigned from the SFL, and were eventually replaced by Annan Athletic.

Following the demise of their club, the Gretna supporters formed a new club, Gretna FC 2008, which joined the East of Scotland League.  In 2010/11 they gained promotion to the East of Scotland Premier Division, and in May 2011 they agreed to buy Raydale Park, the old club’s ground.  They finished 6th in their debut season in the top flight of the East of Scotland League.

As their name suggests, the new Gretna FC 2008 do not make any claim to be a continuation of the former club.

Rangers (2012)

Everyone will be aware of the Rangers story, so there is no need to go in to any depth on how they came to be liquidated in the first place.  But what of the history of the old club?  Again, the supporters will remember all the old club’s famous matches, their title wins and the Cup Winners’ Cup victory in 1972, but will Charles Green’s newco have any claim to this history?  The arguments will no doubt rage on about this, but the only way the new club can legitimately claim the history of the old club is if they transfer across the SFA membership from the former Rangers FC.  But if the membership is transferred, then so too are all the punishments attached to that club – for example the SFA disrepute charges and the potential dual contract charges.  They would also almost certainly be responsible for the football debts of Rangers FC.

If the new club apply for a fresh SFA membership, then they would be following the path of Gretna 2008 and Clydebank in having a brand new club.  That club wouldn’t have the trophies of the former club, but nor would it have the toxic history.  Time will tell which approach is taken, and indeed whether the SFA make any announcement about the history issue.

St Johnstone FC in Europe – 2012/13

The draws for the 1st and 2nd Qualifying Rounds of the Europa League will take place on Monday at 12:30pm at UEFA headquarters, with St Johnstone the only Scottish side involved at this early stage.  The Perth side will enter at the 2nd Qualifying Round, and will be unseeded.  Their matches will be played on the 19th and 26th July, a couple of weeks before the start of the SPL season.

This will be the 3rd season in Europe for the Perth side, and their first in 13 years.  Both of their previous campaigns were in the Europa League’s predecessor, the UEFA Cup, and they made it past the first hurdle on both occasions.  The Saints will be hoping to continue their proud record of being unbeaten at home in Europe, having played 5 matches.  The only other Scottish clubs with an unbeaten home record in Europe are Livingston (2 matches) and Falkirk (1 match).

The countries and cities St Johnstone have visited in European competition

Their first sojourn into Europe was in the 1971/72 season, where they met Hamburg in the 1st Round.   In the 1st leg they suffered a 2-1 defeat in West Germany, with Jim Pearson scoring their first ever European goal.  In the return leg at Muirton Park, nearly 15,000 fans witnessed a sensational 3-0 victory which took the Perth side through.  In Round 2, they defeat Vasas of Hungary 2-0 at home, and held on for a 1-0 defeat in Budapest to squeeze through on aggregate.  Round 3 saw them face Zeljeznicar Sarajevo, where after a 1-0 home win they were brought abruptly to earth with a 5-1 defeat in what was then Yugoslavia.

The Saints had to wait 18 years for a return to Europe, reaching the 1999/2000 UEFA Cup where they faced VPS Vaasa in the Qualifying Round.  They drew 1-1 in Finland, with Nathan Lowndes scoring a 2nd half equaliser, which put them in the driving seat for the 2nd leg, but they endured a nervy encounter at McDiarmid Park, with the tie not being sealed until Miguel Simao scored a very late double for a 2-0 win.  The 1st Round proper saw a glamour tie against an AS Monaco side which contained Fabien Barthez, Rafael Marquez, Willy Sagnol, Dado Prso, John Arne Riise, Ludovic Giuly and David Trezeguet.  While the supporters enjoyed their trip to Monte Carlo, their side suffered a 3-0 defeat in the 1st leg which put the tie beyond them.  The 2nd leg in Perth saw Saints preserving their unbeaten home record with an entertaining 3-3 draw.

Their opponents for the 2012/13 campaign will be drawn on Monday, but with 10 winners from the 1st Round being included as seeds in the 2nd Round draw, there’s a possibility (a 25% chance to be precise!) that they won’t know their exact opponents until July 12th.  Below is a reminder of how the draw works.

1st Qualifying Round

Matches – 5th July and 12th July

74 teams enter the Europa League at this stage, which kicks off 4 days after the final of Euro 2012.

The teams taking part, and their seedings, are listed below.

2nd Qualifying Round

Matches – 19th July and 26th July

43 teams, including St Johnstone, enter at this stage, and are joined by the 37 winners from the previous round.

The draws for the 1st and 2nd Qualifying Rounds are carried out at the same time (25th June), which means that 37 entrants will be unknown at the time of the draw.   UEFA work around this by assuming that the seeded team will win each tie in the previous round.  That means that St Johnstone are guaranteed to be unseeded for this round.  They are ranked 42nd of the 80 teams who are predicted to take part, which means they miss out on being seeded by 2 places.  Had the draw been held separately from the 1st Qualifying Round, they could have been seeded if 2 of the 10 teams ranked above them lost in the previous round.

The list below shows the seeding for the 2nd Qualifying Round.  The teams listed in white and italics are the seeded teams from the 1st Qualifying Round ties, whose seeding is used in the draw.  If these teams lose in the 1st Qualifying Round, they would be replaced by the team who beat them.