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Page last updated at 18:48 GMT, Thursday, 3 July 2008 19:48 UK

Annan vow not to be new Gretna

By Clive Lindsay

Henry McLelland at Hampden
Things are looking up for McLelland and Annan Athletic

Once bitten, it is perhaps understandable that the Scottish Football League's members were not shy in adopting a safety-first policy by voting Annan Athletic into their ranks.

And the latest outfit to be given their chance in Division Three stress that, while they are just seven geographical miles away from the club they replace, they are world's apart from Gretna FC.

Gretna, previously of the Northern League in England, made a rapid rise to the Scottish Premier League after winning most votes in 2002.

But their demise was even more swift after their millionaire backer, entrepreneur Brooks Mileson, withdrew his support following an illness and they went out of business after relegation from the SPL this summer.

They had lived a dream, taking a team from a village of 3,000 - previously better known for runaway weddings than football - to Scotland's top tier, to a Scottish Cup final and into the Uefa Cup.

However, Annan chairman Henry McLelland, speaking after beating four other clubs in Thursday's hustings at Hampden, believes that his is based on more realistic foundations.

We only spend what we can afford. Simple

Annan Athletic chairman Henry McLelland

"Six years ago, when Gretna joined the league, they probably had a sustainable model," he said.

"But it certainly wasn't a sustainable model for the SPL and that's clear to everyone.

"Our feet are quite firmly planted on the ground. Thirty years ago, we were in the Carlisle and District Amateur League like Gretna.

"We chose to move to the South of Scotland League, we then put a senior side in the East of Scotland League and we have been making progress over that 30 years with a solid financial grounding with feet firmly on the ground.

"That's where they are and that's where they will stay.

"We have spent 300,000 to 400,000 developing the ground, but we don't owe anybody anything. It's all paid for and that's the way we work.

Annan celebrate a victory in the Scottish Cup
Annan have enjoyed some wins in the Scottish Cup

"We only spend what we can afford. Simple."

That preparation appears to have stood them in good stead when most votes were cast for Annan rather than East of Scotland rivals Spartans, Edinburgh City and Preston Athletic, along with Highland League champions Cove Rangers.

All their rivals had ambitious plans. Spartans even have a new stadium on stream for September and a much-lauded new academy.

But Annan, established in 1942, have everything in place except the floodlights - and those are due to be delivered to their 3,500-capacity Galabank Stadium next month.

That impressed the SFL's inspection team last week and is thought to have weighed heavily in Thursday's voting.

Annan, the third largest town in Dumfries and Galloway and with a population of around 12,000, is just 16 miles away from another SFL outfit, Queen of the South, presently performing well in Division One.

Interview: Annan chairman Henry McLelland

But McLelland believes that there is room for another senior club in the area, especially as Athletic have a strong place at the heart of the community.

"This isn't Annan Athletic, this is the town of Annan. Let's get it right," he said.

"When we get back down the road to the Annan Athletic social club it will be mental and it will be like that for the next four days.

"This weekend Annan celebrates its Riding of the Marches.

"That's normally a two-day celebration, but it will become a four-day celebration."

Annan's present side will require strengthening considering they were chosen ahead of three sides who finished ahead of them in this season's East of Scotland League.

MY SPORT: DEBATE

The new SFL entrants finished seventh, 19 points behind third-top Spartans, with Edinburgh City in fourth and Preston in fifth.

But - considering Annan boast a social club from which the bar takings alone coin in 200,000 per year and claim to be the best supported team in the league - they appear well positioned to buy-in some fresh talent.

And they may be the last to win their place in the SFL based on votes rather than playing prowess, with Scottish FA chief executive Gordon Smith again stressing his desire to introduce a pyramid system of entry.


see also
Annan voted into Scottish league
03 Jul 08 |  Scottish League
Seeking League status
03 Jul 08 |  Scotland
Annan ready to step up to SFL
29 Jun 08 |  Scottish League
Cove crave spot in Division Three
28 Jun 08 |  Scottish League
City slickers state case for SFL
30 Jun 08 |  Scottish League
Preston 'confident' of SFL spot
02 Jul 08 |  Scottish League
Spartans seek a shot at the SFL
01 Jul 08 |  Scottish League


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