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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 April 2007, 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK
Gretna fairytale continues

By Colin Moffat

David Graham celebrates a goal for Gretna
Gretna are celebrating three consecutive title wins
If the scriptwriters for the Gretna success story were working for Roy of the Rovers, the editor may have taken them aside and told them to tone it down a bit.

But is the meteoric rise of the Raydale Park club from the Unibond League in the north of England to the Premier League in Scotland really as staggering as it sounds?

Gretna, who edged out St Johnstone on a dramatic final day of the season with a last-minute winner against Ross County, were only admitted to senior football in Scotland in the summer of 2002.

At very short notice, they took the place vacated by the demise of Airdrieonians.

However, within a few years, the club were operating on a budget that their Scottish Football League rivals could only ever dream of.

And that's why a resemblance to big-spending Chelsea, however improbable it sounds, is perhaps more appropriate than any comic-book comparisons.

Prior to their arrival in the senior ranks, Gretna had been the only Scottish club to play in an English league.

After their foundation in 1946, the club spent a year in the Dumfriesshire Junior League before transferring their membership from the Scottish Football Association to the Football Association in London.

But they made up for lost time north of the border, finishing sixth and third in their first two seasons in Division Three before romping to the title, with an incredible 32 wins from 36 games.

Success in Division Two, by a margin of 18 points, followed immediately and now they have made it three consecutive title parties by topping Division One.

MY SPORT: DEBATE

Work has already started on upgrading the rather ramshackle Raydale Park and the club are busy campaigning for government support to build a new stadium.

But the entire population of Gretna would not fill half the seats that are required for a top-flight ground.

With SPL rules demanding a minimum 6,000-capacity, Gretna aim to share Motherwell's Fir Park next season.

Their small band of fans are used to long journeys when following the Black & Whites, but it is a 130-mile round-trip from Gretna to Motherwell.

Don't expect too many full-houses when Gretna are involved next term.

The club's detractors, chiefly jealous fans of teams left in their wake, will point to a slight support and complain about Gretna's disproportionate financial muscle.

Gretna owner Brooks Mileson
Mileson has invested heavily to ensure Gretna's rise

Their success owes much to the commitment of eccentric owner Brooks Mileson.

A self-made multi-millionaire, Mileson has provided the funds to attract experienced players from the SPL.

But the club have jettisoned a few of their top earners this season and the average age of the side is dropping.

So how will Gretna fare in the big boys' playground?

Hibernian comprehensively thumped them in both cup competitions this season, netting nine goals in the process.

And their unlikely Uefa Cup adventure quickly turned sour when they lost 7-3 on aggregate at the first hurdle to Derry City.

But who can forget how they secured their European passage?

Having made it to last season's Scottish Cup final, Gretna gave Hearts an almighty scare before losing out on penalty kicks.

Assistant manager David Irons has overseen the tail-end of the season, stepping up when boss Rowan Alexander was given leave of absence in early March to recover from an unspecified illness.

Alexander has been in charge since 2000 and it has been his astuteness, allied to Mileson's backing, that has propelled the team forward at such a rapid rate.

And that partnership may still have a few surprises in store. This ripping yarn could run and run...

SEE ALSO
Ross County 2-3 Gretna
28 Apr 07 |  Scottish League
Hamilton Accies 3-4 St Johnstone
28 Apr 07 |  Scottish League


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