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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Airdrie may edge out Gretna
The battle to take the vacant place in the Scottish Football League vacated by liquidated Airdrieonians is developing into a two-horse race.
Airdrie United hope to emerge Phoenix-like from the ashes of the Lanarkshire town's former First Division club and are understood to be favourites with the Scottish Football League.
Gretna have emerged as their strongest challengers from the six other clubs vying for admission.
The 27 SFL members will on Tuesday hear 10-minute presentations from each of the candidates before voting to admit one of the seven to next season's Third Division.
It appears that the ballot hinges on how the members view the possibility of allowing a new club from Airdrie back into the set-up so soon after the demise of the one that finished runners-up in the past season's Division One.
If other clubs are willing to take them at their word, United must be favourites.
They have an impressive, 10,000-seat stadium and an established fan base that will help boost the finances of the whole Third Division.
Should United's words be considered empty promises, the facilities and playing resources of Gretna, who presently travel across the Border to play in England's Unibond League, could hold sway.
But the record number of professional players released by Scottish clubs at the end of the season has weakened one of Gretna's trump cards.
Indeed, a new club offering jobs to whole new squad could be seen as having an advantage.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Ross County, Elgin City and Peterhead are the most recent league entrants and it is unlikely that the clubs would wish to vote in yet another club from the Highland League.
That would militate against Huntly and Cove Rangers, while Edinburgh City and Preston Athletic will suffer from their proximity to Scottish Premier League outfits Heart of Midlothian and Hibernian.
Any club winning admission would serve a five-year probationary period as an associate member, like Elgin City and Peterhead, who are yet unable to vote.
Here is how the seven candidates shape up:
Led by accountant and would-be chairman Jim Ballantyne, along with businessman Walter Spiers and their families, have pledged to pay debts of up to £500,000 to former players and other clubs. A cheque of £20,000 already lodged with Tony Higgins, secretary of the Scottish Professional Footballers Association, as a down-payment. Would have former player Sandy Stewart as manager. Will hire 10,000-seat Excelsior Stadium, formerly owned by Airdrieonians but now being run by the local council. Claim to have 1600 season-ticket pledges and could command a travelling support of 500, which would be the largest in Division Three. But £400,000 would remain unpaid to stadium builder Barr Construction and some may see that as a dangerous signal with so many other clubs on a financial precipice.
Formed in 1922, Cove play at 1,400-capacity Allan Park in a suburb of Aberdeen, with the city's Premier League club playing only a few miles away. Crowds average just 320 in their seated stand and covered enclosure, although there are plans to move to a £3.5m Calder Park, Altens. One of the top Highland League clubs of recent years.
Former members of the original league but now play in the East of Scotland League and play to crowds of just 50. Play at the national athletics stadium, with a large stand and excellent internal facilities. But that was vacated seven years ago by Meadowbank Thistle, who moved to nearby Livingston as they felt that Edinburgh, which also has Hearts and Hibs, was not large enough for three senior clubs.
Have twice failed to win a step up from the East of Scotland League. Under the management of former Dundee United defender John Clark and have given senior clubs a scare in the Scottish Cup. Can tap into a population of 100,000 people in the Borders without a team in the SFL. But have an ageing stand with a grass embankment at their 5,000-capacity Netherdale ground. Rugby remains the main sport in the Borders and would have to compete with the area's new professional oval-ball club next season.
Perform in Unibond Division One in England and believe they are already playing in a higher standard than Scotland's Third Division. Neat Raydale Park has a 1,500-seat stand. Are managed by Rowen Alexander, the former Morton and Queen of the South striker, who doubles as groundsman. But only play in front of an average of 100 fans and third application in eight years could also be thwarted by their geographical distance from other clubs.
Formed in 1928, Huntly have recently been one of the leading clubs in the Highland League. Christie Park has a 3,500 capacity and holds an average 260 fans. But Highland League clubs have won the last four places and this may count against them this time.
Formed in 1945 and play in Prestonpans, East Lothian, which does not yet have a senior club but is within easy travelling distance of Edinburgh. Pennypit Park has a capacity of just 1,500 and has grass banking but has a new grandstand and floodlights. Have won promotion to the ESL Premier Division but only have an average attendance of 150 and lost out to Peterhead and Elgin in 2000.
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