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Community Ownership week – Gretna F.C. 2008

 

Gretna

 

It’s easy to say the last couple of years have offered little promise for the financial future of Scottish football.

 
However, this isn’t a new revelation and the signs have been there since 2008 when Gretna FC were liquidated following a rollercoaster six seasons under the ownership of businessman Brooks Mileson. The collapse highlighted the shortfalls, dangers and precarious nature some clubs can find themselves in when reliant on one, single financial benefactor.

 
The club’s rise and fall was well documented. After a sequence of successful seasons, the club were competing amongst the country’s best in the Premier League and their run culminated in a Scottish Cup Final appearance in 2006 where they cruelly lost out on penalties to Hearts.

 
In the club’s first full season in Scotland’s top division, the ill health of Mileson came to light as did the realisation of the club’s financial woes without his backing. The club’s supporter’s society swiftly became the supporters trust with the aid of Supporters Direct Scotland and new finance was sought to keep the club aloft.

 
Perhaps ironically, Mileson was a devotee of grass-roots football, and made donations to several football supporters trusts, including Dundee United’s Arab Trust, Ayr United’s Honest Men Trust, Dundee’s Dee4life Trust and Berwick Rangers’s Supporters Trust. The spin in his tale was of course the problems his own club’s supporters faced following his withdrawal as they stared at the prospect of Gretna no long having a league club.

 
Following the demotion of the club to the bottom tier of the Scottish Football League, no new bidders were forthcoming and Gretna FC were wound up and promptly liquidated. The then newly formed Supporters Trust however remained resilient and set about establishing a new entity under the name of Gretna 2008.

 
Two months later the club was registered and looking for a league to compete in. Craig Williamson, previously chairman of the Supporters Society described the reaction of the Supporters Trust when they first learned of liquidation.

 
“At that point we realised the club was going to fold but we weren’t going to lie down and decided we would start a new club and take it forward from there.”

 
One of the club’s first moves was to appoint the then University of Cumbria’s football officer Stuart Rome as team manager and recruited much of the playing squad from Workington’s reserve team.

 
Williamson was one of the key driving forces in the swift establishment of the new club and is now Chairman of Gretna 2008. The new club is wholly owned by the Society and its board elected by the Society’s members.

Williamson spoke fondly of their first steps as a new club:

 
“It’s been great. We were accepted (into the East of Scotland league) with open arms and I think we’ve added value to it”.

 
The club have plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Although the club were originally declined entry into the South of Scotland league, they were accepted by the East of Scotland league and following promotion to its Premier Division last season are now looking back up again rather than down. Following their swift promotion the side are now competing against the likes of amateur giants Spartans and reigning champions University of Stirling and adjusted well to their new surroundings finishing 4th in the 2012/2013 season.

 
And not only have the club consolidated on the pitch, but strides are being made to do so off it. In 2009, Gretna 2008 was granted a 25 year lease by Raydale Community Partnership (RCP) to access Raydale Park, the former home of Gretna FC. This offers them a great asset which they can use for the benefit of both the club and the community. The club are responsible for the majority of the maintenance and have plans to redevelop it with the approval of the RCP. Williamson spoke of the value of Raydale Park by saying:

 
“Whilst we could do with refurbishing the club house and changing rooms, it’s still as good a facility as most of the other clubs in the East of Scotland and gives us a solid foundation to move forward”.

 
However, whilst the future does look promising for the ever growing club, there are of course challenges they face and being a fan-owned club always brings certain difficulties with it.

 
“The need to produce accurate budgets has been learned over the last 5 years and fundraising is a constant headache. We always have to look at income streams, Raydale Park is in the community, we have to look at using it for everything not just 22 times a year for games – we have to look at every opportunity where we can make some income”.

 
The Gretna Supporters Trust went through times of such hardship to the point where the key priority for Gretna 2008 is that of many within Scottish football, to simply survive. Whilst the main struggle is fundraising, there is always the challenge of sustainability which is testing so many clubs across Scotland, from grassroots to the Scottish Premiership.

 
“Sustainability is the most important thing, this is our 5th season and I do think we’re getting to a level where we’re taking it forward and getting new income streams coming in so of course the immediate aim is sustainability”.

 
However finance isn’t the Trust’s only concern and the transaction of being a Trust trying to save a club, to being a Trust in charge of a club has brought new responsibilities.

 
“Maintaining a proactive committee is paramount, as is generating the interest of the Trust members. Keeping the members informed of developments is a priority and the website is the main source of information. We have recently introduced Facebook and Twitter to keep fans up to date and a text alert system is used to inform of postponed matches. The main difference in structure is the feeling of joint responsibility and self-reliance, together with the dependence on volunteers to ensure match days run smoothly”.

 
Although sustainability and developing for the long term is understandably their key concern, the club do have plans to develop the club’s community roots in the future. From being one of the more recent Supporter Trusts set up to save Gretna FC, they’ve now been through the mill and come out the other side guiding Gretna 2008. Their words of advice for other trusts? “We would recommend trusts being more proactive in the running of their clubs. It might prevent any mismanagement at higher levels and ensure the preservation of the interest of the “ordinary” fan. Trusts have a duty to support and drive forward the club they support”.

 

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