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The lights go off at Gretna

By Colin Moffat

Gretna have gone out of business following relegation from the SPL
Gretna have lost their battle for Scottish Football League survival
The adventure is over for Gretna but it was a thrilling ride while it lasted.

In just six years the out-of-business club packed in so much more than many long-standing senior outfits.

The loss of league status is the sad last chapter in a story that started in the summer of 2002, when, at very short notice, Gretna took the Scottish Football League place vacated by the demise of Airdrieonians.

The club had been playing in the UniBond League in the north of England but soon they were operating on a budget which their new rivals could not live with.

Gretna's incredible rise to the Premier League came at a cost of some 8m for eccentric benefactor Brooks Mileson.

His money bought three consecutive title-winning parties as well as a memorable trip to the Scottish Cup final in 2006 which, in turn, led to a Uefa Cup place.

Not bad for a town with a population of just 3,000 or so.

However, the club's rapid success was also to play a significant part in its downfall.

MY SPORT: DEBATE

The ramshackle Raydale Park was not suitable for top flight football, so Gretna had to play 'home' games at Motherwell's Fir Park, which meant a 130-mile round-trip for their small band of supporters.

Attendances were poor throughout the season and an embarrassing record low SPL crowd of just 431 watched the visit of Inverness Caledonian Thistle in April.

By that time, Mileson, suffering from ill-health, had withdrawn his funding and the club were in the hands of administrators.

GRETNA LANDMARKS
Brooks Mileson and former manager Rowan Alexander
August 2002 - First Scottish league match
June 2003 - Brooks Mileson becomes owner
March 2005 - Win promotion to Second Division
March 2006 - Win promotion to First Division
May 2006 - Lose Scottish Cup final to Hearts
April 2007 - Win promotion to Scottish Premier League
March 2008 - Go into administration
March 2008 - Relegated from SPL
May 2008 - Last SPL fixture

Without Mileson's millions, the business was unsustainable, while administration resulted in a 10-point penalty for a team languishing at the foot of the table and 22 players lost their jobs.

The club had racked up debts of 4m and were only able to fulfil their remaining fixtures thanks to a cash advance from the SPL.

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 they staggered over the First Division finishing line in dramatic fashion in the final minutes of last season.

Despite promises to strengthen the team, there was evidence of diminishing support from Mileson as several top-earners were jettisoned before stepping up to the SPL.

And Gretna were immediately out of their depth, picking up just five points from their first 15 matches.

Gretna lost out to Hearts in the 2006 Scottish Cup final
Gretna lost out to Hearts in the 2006 Scottish Cup final

In January, the squad was trimmed further and a band of youngsters were brought in on loan but the season yielded just five victories, although they went out on a high with a victory over Hearts on their farewell appearance.

The remaining staff were all laid off at the season's end and no investors could be found for a lost cause.

Some detractors, chiefly jealous fans of teams left in their wake, will indulge in a spot of schadenfreude, having complained of a slight support and disproportionate financial muscle.

But now the lights have gone off for the final time, most will remember Gretna's brief illumination of the game with fondness.


see also
Gretna relinquish league status
03 Jun 08 |  Gretna
Four clubs wait for Gretna fate
30 May 08 |  Scottish League
Gretna bid farewell to big time
13 May 08 |  South of Scotland
Gretna FC debt level almost 4m
23 Apr 08 |  South of Scotland


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