Thursday, 20 March 2008

Watch what you wish for

First published in Sons View, 18 March 2008, Dumbarton -v- Stenhousemuir

Well, I hesitate to say it, but after a really difficult start, things do seem to be looking up a wee bit for the Sons. Whether Elgin have proved me right or wrong by now*, seven points out of nine from the previous three games, including one on the road, was a real boost. It’s just a pity that postponement meant we lost the chance to put a few past Forfar at SHS on 8 March. The rescheduled fixture on 1 April is bang on for my next trip up from Exeter, I’m glad to say. But seven games in 21 days starting this afternoon is certainly a demanding schedule for the boys.

In small leagues, the difference between joy and sorrow can be a few games, half a dozen goals and a handful of points. I remember that bright sunny day back in 2004 when we beat Alloa 3-1 in the last home game of the season. We were in Division Two then. A third place finish was more than many expected, but if Hamilton had lost (admittedly a tall order) it could have been even better – competing for a place in the SPL in season 2004-5. Instead, that year, the slide back to where we are today began.

We’ve long faced the fact that this season is about consolidation and planning for the future. No doubt manager Jim Chapman will tell us how he sees things shaping up when he meets the fans on 29 March. But the anticipation for next year, without a doubt, is that Dumbarton can get back to challenging for a return to Division Two. It’s going to be tough, but with a lot of hard work from players, staff and fans we can surely make it happen.

In some quarters of the football universe, by contrast, there are people who believe in magic wands stuffed full of pound notes and sprinkled with stardust. Lucre is the great blessing and the great curse of the modern game, often all rolled into one tempting bundle. Look at poor Gretna (who thought we’d say that?), whose fate still hangs precariously in the balance. Faced with their sudden demise, you can’t help but realise that it’s sometimes good be careful about what you wish for.

The past few seasons seems to have been all joy for the Borderers, with goals tumbling in, wins chalked up, a Scottish Cup Final, and successive promotions each secured on the back of Brook Mileson’s generously spent wads of cash. My goodness, even my 2006 copy of Duncan Adams’ guide to Scottish football grounds still has Gretna in Division One and playing at Raydale Park. Then when I blink, I remember them curiously exiled in English non-league football prior to 2002-3.

But with a sadly ailing owner and the money supply marooned, it looks as if the dream became reality more than a tad too soon. Ex-manager Davie Irons, who's now at Ton, wasn’t exaggerating when he told Sportsound the other week that it’s “a sad state of affairs… the club just grew too big, too quickly.” The final price of their rollercoaster, bankrolled success looks like being very high – with administration, a ten point penalty, relegation, redundancies and possibly worse to follow.

There are no free lunches in fitba, even for the fat cats. To those of us contemplating ascending to the dizzy heights of the third level of Scottish football it is perhaps hard to contemplate Liverpool’s Champions League quarter finals and the struggle for fourth spot in the English Premier League as “failure”, but to the suits and millionaire players who have mortgaged themselves (quite literally) on something far greater, that’s exactly what it seems.

The first comprehensive billionaire owner collapse or Italian-scale corruption scandal has yet to happen south of the border, but don’t bet against it entirely sometime in the next ten years. Has the game got too big for its boots? For a few it has or will do. But others are reading the signs of the times and beginning to wonder. We may all secretly hope for a rich uncle to give us a quick cash injection, but for most of us its going to be blood, sweat and tears.

* Elgin proved me wrong. But then Stenny got us back on course.


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