Today Tuesday, March 26, 2013, is the day Dunfermline Athletic FC must act. The Board consisting of Gavin Masterton and his daughters, plus John Yorkston, are still hoping for a miracle, an 11th hour investment of ready cash, otherwise they need to decide on or accept an insolvency event, perhaps voluntary administration if a court will agree to such a move or liquidation. The HMRC deadline for the payment of the critical £134,000 tax debt is 5pm this evening.
The Pars Fans
Hardcore fans know exactly who is to blame for the Fife club’s financial crisis; it’s 94% majority shareholder Gavin Masterton.
I popped into The Old Inn, Dunfermline, at lunchtime on Saturday before the home game against Dumbarton – a match the Pars lost 4-3 – and found it mobbed with Pars fans. There was singing, the waving of banners, and even a Gavin Masterton facemask cleverly altered to make me think, “Gavbusters!” You know, a red circle and diagonal line like the No-Ghost Sign from the hit film, only this was a No-Gav Sign. One chap looked like he’d been up all night sticking pins in a wee bespectacled voodoo doll. It was a pub in protest, and no ordinary pub, The Old Inn was the birthplace of the Pars back in 1885. As I said above, hardcore fans like these know exactly who is to blame for the financial disaster; it’s the club owner Gavin Masterton. The hard-of-thinking fans who tried to defend the indefensible have run out of excuses for Masterton and their desperate finger-pointing won’t wash anymore. Even club legend Jim Leishman says it’s all down to Gavin.
The Steering Group and The Pars Community
“We’re at the end of the road,” said Leishman at the weekend, as he announced that his steering group’s due diligence had uncovered cause for concern. Enough concern for his group to withdraw from talks and refuse to pay Masterton’s £134,000 tax bill, the bill that could end the 128 year old club. With fans ready to contribute the steering group would not take fans’ cash without the club having a sustainable future. Around 10 days ago The Pars Community found themselves in a similar situation. They also had enough cash for a short-term fix but without access to the books they were not prepared to do a deal based on blind faith. The steering group’s diligence has supported their reservations. This is harsh, but almost certainly fair, no one is now prepared to invest in a Gavin Masterton owned DAFC. It’s that simple. He’s burnt all his bridges.
The ‘C’ Word
There were good times, including 4th place in the SPL, three cup finals, and a First Division title in 2011, but they are now tarnished by the spectre of financial doping, or cheating if you prefer plain language. They were accomplishments bought with other people’s money, and achieved by players the club clearly could not actually afford.
Ask Pars fans now and I reckon the vast majority, if not all, would swap the cup finals for an honest club with manageable debts.
I know Rangers did it. I hear Barcelona and Real Madrid are getting away with it. Apparently not paying the tax man is okay if you’re a Spanish giant. Some of the fans at The Old Inn were telling me all about the tears shed at the thought of the Pars not paying the tax man and the impending financial collapse. The death of DAFC is sad but having seen one Scottish club, Charles Green’s Rangers, reborn and rising from the ashes in SFL3 I can’t see why the Athletic shouldn’t do the same. Perhaps that’s why hanging around the club’s death-bed seems like a relatively happy experience. The fans in The Old Inn seemed reasonably upbeat to me; quaffing beers, stuffing their smiling faces with square sausage on rolls, and singing Into The Valley, Chance, and the Dunfermline Song. Death isn’t so scary when a new debt-free phoenix club can be playing again the very next season.
It should be remembered though that Rangers didn’t automatically qualify for re-entry in SFL3. There was a lengthy and fraught process, administrative wrangling, and votes cast, before football returned to Ibrox. If a new DAFC is required the new club founders will need to play the ‘whataboutery’ card and say, “What about Rangers, we want similar treatment.” The football authorities have already overlooked a long-established precedent to disadvantage the Pars when Dundee was voted into the SPL as Club 12. Normally, the established pecking order would see the club facing relegation saved. So, any phoenix Pars will need to be strong advocates.
Will a new Dunfermline be the same old club? No, of course not, the answer is in the question, it’ll be a new club.
It’d be daft, embarrassing and disrespectful to creditors to pretend otherwise was one fans’ assessment and another said:
“Who’d want to have a history of ripping creditors off for millions and live in denial forever more pretending to be the same old busted club.”
I found this sort of chat refreshing and honest. Little did they know that they were preaching to the converted. I’m all in favour of this kind of frank realism. In fact starting again should be an opportunity to build a better club, and let’s be honest, Dunfermline, whether surviving or starting over, needs to be a better club.
In Dunfermline’s situation the fans could help to create a genuine community club, perhaps based on The Pars Community’s 50-50 model; 50% of shares for wealthy custodians and 50% for grassroots fans.
Dunfermline fans have been deserting the club for years. Arguably since 1990 when Iain Munro was given the manager’s job with Jim Leishman rightly refusing an undeserved move upstairs in favour of resigning and moving on to pastures new. There was a pro-Leishman protest march and many fans refused to return to East End Park. Masterton can’t be blamed for that as it was before his time, but his more recent pandering to the corporate “prawn sandwich” pound and family-friendly atmosphere has increasingly driven away traditional all-singing, all-standing, all-swearing football fans – the lifeblood of the club.
The number of Pars supporters’ clubs has fallen away too, from something like 26 to perhaps less than half that number.
Traditional Pars fans don’t want sanitised football, heavy-handed stewarding by jobsworths, a national police squad enforcing Alex Salmond’s barmy new laws on offensive behaviour at football, cold plastic seats, and a club looking down their collective nose at anyone not wearing a shirt and tie on a Saturday afternoon.
Not going to East End Park reached epidemic proportions some time ago, yet Masterton, with his nepotism and cronyism, carried on regardless.
Whatever happens today we need a return of our traditional community spirit and a return to traditional fans’ values. I suspect that’ll only happen if Gavin Masterton and all of his hingers oan are, somehow, completely gone for good.