Page last updated at 12:10 GMT, Wednesday, 4 June 2008 13:10 UK

How Gretna paid the ultimate price

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
South of Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Damaged Gretna logo
Football fans in southern Scotland all had an opinion about Gretna

It started out as the sort of story of which Dumfries and Galloway could be proud.

Its conclusion has been more than a little embarrassing.

During their six years in the Scottish Football League set-up, there has been little middle ground for Gretna Football Club.

Loved and loathed in about equal measure, their resignation from the SFL on Tuesday brought to an end as harsh a sporting lesson as there could be.

I remember the day when Gretna won their spot in the league back in 2002.

It was the cause of some celebration as a third Dumfries and Galloway team joined Queen of the South and Stranraer in the SFL ranks.

First campaign

In a way, it was one in the eye to the central belt sides who wanted another of their number to be given the spot in Division Three.

Instead, the village club got the place and spread the geography of the Scottish game a little further.

It is easy to forget that in that first campaign the club held its own without the huge expenditure which followed.

Rowan Alexander
Gretna started out in the league as a small club with small ambitions

That should have laid the foundations for a team which might, in a good year, have mustered a challenge for promotion to Division Two and not much more.

Nobody had accounted for Brooks Mileson.

Legend has it he fell in love with a set-up where manager Rowan Alexander doubled as groundsman.

In hindsight, fans might wish the Raydale Park boss had ignored the pony-tailed benefactor and carried on cutting the grass.

The phenomenon created in Gretna was one which left no football follower in south west Scotland unaffected.

In one camp, there was the "breath of fresh air" and "good for the game" brigade.

In the other, there were those who accused them of buying success.

Spectacular demise

It was simply impossible to mention their name in the pubs of Dumfries and Galloway without provoking a heated debate.

Was what happened at Raydale Park good for the region?

In Italy, they have coined the term "financial doping".

It describes how a club spends way beyond its means in order to achieve success.

In those terms, Gretna were the Ben Johnson of Scottish football.

Their demise, too, has been just as spectacular as that of the Canadian sprinter.

Raydale Park
Gretna fans now face a future without football at Raydale Park

Football followers around the world watched in astonishment as they sped into the SPL.

After their financial collapse, however, the cries of "I told you so" have been as raucous as any shout every produced by the Gretna support.

There may not be much sympathy for the people who leapt aboard the black and white bandwagon.

However, you have to feel sorry for those who supported the club in the BB years (Before Brooks).

There were a few hundred loyal souls who followed Gretna FC prior to their emergence as everybody's favourite "fairytale".

They have been left to pick up the pieces of what administrators called a "financial mess".

Yes, they made the SPL and the Scottish Cup final but they paid the ultimate sporting price - the loss of the club they loved.


SEE ALSO
SFA chief wants no more Gretnas
03 Jun 08 |  Scottish League
The lights go off at Gretna
03 Jun 08 |  Gretna
Gretna relinquish league status
03 Jun 08 |  Gretna
Gretna 'no longer in existence'
02 Jun 08 |  South of Scotland
Four clubs wait for Gretna fate
30 May 08 |  Scottish League
Fans wait to discover Gretna fate
17 May 08 |  South of Scotland

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