Last week, Aberdeen FC announced that the club had agreed an investment deal that would see the club become debt-free. Dundee United and Kilmarnock reached reached similar agreements last year and Scottish football is now appearing to be a much healthier environment in terms and borrowing and debt. Considering how little money there is in the Scottish game, operating under the shadow of debt is far riskier a proposition for clubs here than it is for other, larger clubs south of the border, who can rely on significant income from broadcasting companies to supplement other revenue streams.
Another example of a league club ridding themselves of debt recently has been Clyde FC – a fan-owned club that has worked tirelessly to achieve this. This provides further evidence of the benefits of greater fan involvement in the governance of football clubs. Whilst certainly not a guarantee, having those who care most about the long-term sustainability of a club in charge – either completely or partially – can help in ensuring that the decisions made in running the club are done so for the right reasons.
Fewer clubs in debt is of course good news for Scottish football, however the news has be tempered slightly by the acknowledgement that this does not necessarily mean clubs are in a position to increase spending on their playing staff. Clubs such as Aberdeen and Kilmarnock should use this opportunity to ensure that the club remains financially sustainable over the long-term. Being free from debt does not mean that money can be spent with a clearer conscience – it merely provides clubs with financial respite that so few others across the UK are afforded.
Dundee United are a great example in recent seasons of a club who has developed a terrific track record of bringing young players up from the youth teams into the first team squad, then to be sold on for a good profit. The likes of David Goodwillie, Johnny Russell and Ryan Gauld have provided United with valuable revenue at a time in Scottish football when the number of potential revenue sources are scarce. Being in stronger position financially will hopefully mean that clubs can afford to develop these talented, young players without the same amount of pressure to sell them when their value increases. In the long-term, we can only hope that this will lead to an increase in quality throughout the Scottish leagues, eventually improving the fortunes of the national team.
Greater financial stability in Scottish football will hopefully also offer more opportunity to increase and improve the level of fan involvement in the game. As was mentioned at the beginning of this article, Clyde FC – a fan-owned club – have also recently become debt free. The resource available to clubs in the shape of their support should not be underestimated or completely ignored. There is a wealth of talent and expertise, allied with a lifelong passion that fans can offer to their clubs. Stirling Albion are another example of a supporter-owned club that has managed to move away from the brink of liquidation to become a thriving, sustainable club. Of course Scottish football should be happy that more of its clubs are becoming debt free, or are moving in that direction. But let’s hope they also use this opportunity to commit to a long-term plan for sustainable governance of clubs and greater supporter involvement can be a key factor in achieving this.