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    • By Scotty in Narey's Toepoker
         1
      Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know I'm a bit geeky about the financial side of Scottish football. That's partly because it is a simple way of judging who is over- and under-achieving, as well as being a pretty good indicator of which clubs are well-run and which aren't.

      Moreover I increasingly worry that it is only a matter of time until another Scottish football club ends up in an administration event. Very few are self-sustaining. As I previously blogged it feels like most Championship clubs are getting by on donations and goodwill. Meanwhile the clubs at the lower end of the top flight are rather dependent themselves on a combination of overachieving (higher league positions and cup runs) and selling players. In fact, even Celtic and Rangers, despite having budgets that dwarf the rest, face their own challenges.

      For comparison though, only three Scottish clubs - Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen - have turnovers higher than the bottom end of the English Championship. Celtic's turnover is lower than that of all 12 Premier League clubs who have published figures for last season. Rangers' wage bill would put them in the bottom half of the Championship, and Aberdeen's is lower than all Championship clubs.

      That's what Scottish football is up against.

      So let's look at all the info we have on Scotland's top clubs...

      (This is the point where I should really shout out to Kieran Maguire, whose analysis of football club accounts is invaluable reading when it comes to this)

      ABERDEEN
      TURNOVER: £15.4m (2016/17 - £15.3m)
      LOSSES: £800k (2016/17 - profit of £500k)

      Did Aberdeen really spend £1.3m on new players last season? Apparently so. Hopefully they'll be better value than Paul Bernard and Robbie Winters were. Despite posting a loss for 2017/18 the Dons seem to be in a perfectly decent position due to a turnover that is the third highest in Scotland. The question is how to increase income further - cup runs this season may help - and also how much prudence will be required in the coming years as the club (subject to about the gazillionth appeal by opponents) build a new stadium at Kingsford with the aim of moving there as soon as 2021.


      CELTIC
      TURNOVER: £101.6m (2016/17 - £90.6m)
      PROFIT: £17.3m (2016/17 - £6.9m)

      Celtic's status as an enormous fish in a small pond domestically, but as a relative tiddler in the continental ocean (oof, you've pushed that metaphor far enough - Ed) presents them with unique challenges. For a start, making the Champions League is worth a huge amount of money; missing out leaves a large hole in their finances...as seen in their interim results from the first 6 months of this season where turnover dropped by £20m compared to the same period of the previous year.

      This gap in the past has been easily filled by selling a player (see: Fraser Forster, Virgil Van Dijk, Moussa Dembele). The quandary is whether to save money for those years where they miss out on the Champions' League, or to invest it to increase their chances of getting through qualifying.

      From a domestic point of view however there is no comparison. Their turnover is roughly equal to the other 11 Premiership clubs put together.


      DUNDEE
      TURNOVER: £4.6m (2016/17 - £3.9m)
      LOSSES: £425k (2016/17 - £350k)

      Dundee are in their sixth season since being taken over by FPS, their American backers led by John Nelms and Tim Keyes. The first five years have resulted in combined losses of £2.3m...despite about £1.3m from selling Kane Hemmings, Greg Stewart and Jack Hendry. Their wage bill is more than 70% of turnover, which is far from ideal.

      This season is likely to follow that trend following the sacking of Neil McCann and a plethora of new signings for successor Jim McIntyre. Obviously there would be a huge problem if FPS stepped away, though there are no signs of them doing so even if the club are relegated this season. The bigger concern is if the stalled plans for a new stadium come to nothing, because that seems to be the key to the business plan going forward.


      HAMILTON ACCIES
      TURNOVER: unreported
      RETAINED EARNINGS: £502k (2016/17 - £968k)

      Accies don't report turnover, which only tells us that it is less than £6.5m. In reality it will be much smaller than that, the lowest in the top flight by a pretty significant margin. This was a dreadful year financially for Hamilton because of the Vishing scam in 2017 which cost the club £700,000. Even though they sold Greg Docherty and Mikey Devlin they have now ended up with £450,000 of bank debt that they didn't have before. Things should be better this year though with them still in the top flight and having sold Lewis Ferguson.


      HEARTS
      TURNOVER: £12.1m (2016/17 - £11.3m)
      PROFIT: £1.8m (2016/17 - £2.3m)

      Interpreting Hearts' situation is tricky given they got £2m donated towards the new stand and another £1m donated towards player costs. The previous year's profits came after £2.5m of donations. And they got another £3.25m of donations in the first quarter of 2018/19! Now the new stand is completed it'll be interesting to see where turnover is at going forward. Still, it's a far cry from the Romanov days...


      HIBERNIAN
      TURNOVER: £9.5m (2016/17 - £7.6m)
      PROFIT: £214k (2016/17 - losses of £263k)

      On returning to the top flight, Hibs posted the fifth highest turnover in Scotland and finished an excellent fourth in the league. It's interesting to note they spent £500,000 in transfer fees for players during 2017/18. . Given the club's wages/turnover ratio is a solid 56%, things have come a long way since seven figure losses during the 2013/14 relegation season and the subsequent campaign. The sale of John McGinn will make this year's filings look quite decent.


      KILMARNOCK
      TURNOVER: £5.1m (2016/17 - £5.1m)
      LOSSES: £180k (2016/17 - profit of £960k)

      Killie's increased success on the pitch came at an increased cost as the wage bill went up by nearly £1m; some of that may be to do with the dismissal of Lee McCulloch. (Of note, this increase came after several years of costcutting. Wages and income are still lower than five years ago) It's curious that turnover was static despite finishing three places higher in the league. The increased optimism - and crowds - at Rugby Park this season should make this season's figures more impressive.


      MOTHERWELL
      TURNOVER: £6.8m (2016/17 - £4.2m)
      PROFIT: £1.7m (2016/17 - losses of £181k)

      Two cup finals, you say? Decent fees for Ben Heneghan and Louis Moult, you say? It all added up to a bumper year for Motherwell. Staff costs were the sixth highest, but a wage/turnover ratio of 57% is sustainable enough. That said, this campaign's turnover is bound to dip because of a lack of cup income - Motherwell's gate receipts had more than doubled last year - though the sale of Cedric Kipre will cover some of that. And luckily the £1.7m of ongoing interest-free loans show no signs of being called in.


      PARTICK THISTLE
      TURNOVER: £4.5m (2016/17 - £4.1m)
      PROFIT: £343k (2016/17 - £97k)

      Thistle had broken even for years, and last year managed a nice wee profit on the back of larger gates - they played Celtic and Rangers twice at home despite finishing bottom six. Relegation is an expensive business though and they were quick to wield the axe and cut costs - so much so that the outcome is that they are now in danger of dropping to League One, which would be catastrophic. But if they stay up they should be in reasonable nick going forward though this year's results are likely to be impacted further by the need to dismiss manager Alan Archibald.


      RANGERS
      TURNOVER: £32.7m (2016/17 - £29.2m)
      LOSSES: £14.3m (2016/17 - £6.7m)

      *Opens can of worms* Rangers, on the face of it, remain a financial basketcase. An optimist would say that now the whole Takeover Panel thing is out of the way and there appears to be a settled management team things should finally improve. And the interim results for the first 6 months of 2018/19 showed a healthy profit.

      The flipside is that said profit was almightily dependent on European qualification, and at the same time last year they claimed they had broken even up to that point...and finished the year £14m in the red. Add in the estimate in the 2017/18 accounts that they would need a £4.6m cash injection just to get through the year and yet another loan from financial house Close Brothers last week and it seems that things are not rosy yet. But as much as many fans of other clubs are hoping for it, there are no signs of an administration event in the near future.


      ROSS COUNTY
      TURNOVER: accounts not filed yet (2016/17 - £3.8m)
      PROFIT: accounts not filed yet (2016/17 -debt of £1.4m forgiven)

      County's situation is unique amongst the clubs on this list, given they have the unconditional support of Global Energy mogul Roy MacGregor, one of Scotland's wealthiest men. With his ongoing input, County don't really need to worry about money.


      ST JOHNSTONE
      TURNOVER: not reported (2016/17 - £4.9m)
      LOSSES: £258k (2016/17 - profit of £49k)

      St. Johnstone noted in their annual accounts that their losses pretty much reflected the consequence of missing the top six for the first time in years; These were the poorest financial results since Steve Brown became chairman in 2011, but this can probably be forgiven it was a season of transition for Tommy Wright's side. And, you know, they're not too bad, really - there's still £2m in the bank! The Perth Saints are the model example of what a well-run small club in Scotland can accomplish.


      DUNDEE UNITED
      TURNOVER: £3.2m (2016/17 - £3.5m)
      LOSSES: £219k (2016/17 - £1m)

      Thank goodness for the new American owners. United sold their training ground for £1m and made £1.4m from the sell-on clauses of Andy Robertson and Stuart Armstrong and still ran at a loss. That's after losses of £2.5m over the previous two seasons. United would be in a proper help-ma-boab situation had Mark Ogren not completed his takeover.


      FALKIRK
      TURNOVER: £2.7m (2016/17 - not reported)
      PROFIT: £140k (2016/17 - losses of £300k)

      Falkirk arrested a run of loss-making seasons partly by closing their youth academy, having reasoned that they couldn't pay for it unless they made £400k of transfer income annually. One suspects the dismissal of Paul Hartley and the fine for tapping up Ray McKinnon will badly affect the balance sheet for 2018/19

      INVERNESS CT
      TURNOVER: £2m (2016/17 - £3.6m)
      LOSSES: £810k (2016/17 - £400k)

      Relegation hit Caley Thistle like a sledgehammer. Turnover nearly halved and despite dramatic costcutting and loans from directors totally around £400k they still made a high six-figure loss. Whilst there has been further pennypinching since then and the run to the Scottish Cup semi-finals will be a welcome boost, that's still a heck of a hole to fill.


      ST MIRREN
      TURNOVER £2.8m (2016/17: £2.4m)
      PROFIT £77k (2016/17: £15k)

      How much does promotion cost? Well, St. Mirren only made a profit because they sold Stevie Mallan and Lewis Morgan for £700k.


      As for the other 2017/18 Championship clubs, Dunfermline made a very small profit but admit to being dependent on £300k of annual donations. Queen of the South made a £200k loss despite having a tiny squad and relying on local businessmen to pay the wages of Stephen Dobbie. Livingston haven't filed their accounts for last season yet, but the previous ones contained a going concern as liabilities were worth £700k more than their assets. Promotion will certainly have helped things though. Dumbarton's accounts were hard to read but it seems like they made a significant loss (correct me if I'm wrong). There wasn't much info to note on Morton's accounts, and Brechin City don't seem to publish any.


      Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.



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    • By tm4tj in Football adventures with James Rendall
         0
      Click to view slideshow. This article was first published in Football Weekends in 2016, then altered for use in Edinburgh City’s match programme for our Scottish Cup tie in the capital, and now embellished a little for blog consumption with a wee crystal ball gazing as to just how amazing the end of our 25th year might end! The magazine neutral and distant third person switches to a closer, personal descriptive way in the added bits. The title is dedicated to the sad passing of one of my musical favourites, Mark Hollis, with a re-working of Talk Talk’s famous song “It’s my life”, but then again, Inverness Caledonian Thistle will forever be my club!
      A man down, pegged back by an equaliser, Inverness were struggling, it felt like we were on the ropes. Was the Scottish Cup dream about to end? It was Falkirk we were playing after all, a known bogey team for us in years past. They traditionally beat us most August’s and had knocked us out of both cups, and relegated us in one season, indeed that painful demotion game was the last game between the two teams in May 2008. However, this was May 2015, a different generation of player with none of the mental blocks that we the fans associate with the name Falkirk! The clock was ticking down on a sun drenched Hampden, when suddenly the ball broke to Marley Watkins, still in our half, but he started to run, and run with the ball toward goal he sped. A little turn inside, he shot, it wasn’t his best ever effort, a trundler, but the pace caught out the Bairns keeper Jamie MacDonald who merely diverted the ball in to the path of the on rushing James Vincent, who had sprinted from our box! It fell beautifully for him; Goooooooooal!! We had just won the Scottish Cup! A club just 21 years old at that stage had just won the oldest trophy in world football! (FA Cup is an older competition, but the Scottish Cup trophy is older!). It’s a trophy bigger clubs have craved for 114 years without success, or waited more than 100 years to win for the first ever. Nearly four years on it still seems incredible, a boy’s own story, and we have another semi-final versus Hearts soon! It was my 500th game watching ICT, I’d stayed away from some European clinching matches in the run up to make it so!! We finished 3rd in the league, an incredible feat in itself, and qualified for Europe for the first time by virtue our league position alone. It was doubly endorsed by winning the Cup! Will the club ever see the likes again? That is why we are football fans, we can always dream.   
      In business, when companies merge, very often it leads to a greater success, a synergy. Football mergers rarely happen, but when they do, it doesn’t always bring the right result. The closed shop nature of Scottish football only in recent seasons has it opened its gate to the possibility of new blood joining via a play off system. Montrose just survived the inaugural play offs with late goals snuffing out Brora’s brave challenge. Edinburgh City are the only new team in four goes thus far, but only dubious refereeing stopped Cove last term. In 1973, one of the constituent parts of the Inverness merger, Thistle were just one vote away from gaining a league place at that time. Had they been successful, I doubt history would have played out as it has now, but following their narrow failure to join, a growing likelihood of a merger grew in the town as the best way to get league football to Inverness. Both Caledonian and Thistle were top Highland league clubs in their own right, and indeed in 1988 every single honour available to the Highland clubs were held by them both. It may have had its acrimonious moments, but much of what has subsequently come to pass has surely silenced any lingering doubters that this was the right thing to have done.
      It is unusual perhaps for a fan to have the entire history of the club recollected within your own lifetime, but as we only started out in August 1994 that is relatively easy! While the first season was viewed as a disappointment, it was a bedding in period. A bold managerial appointment of ex-Ukrainian International Sergei Baltacha made a statement of intent. It started brilliantly, an away win at East Stirlingshire in the League Cup, followed by a 5-2 opening day league win at Telford Street, the home of Caledonian, (Kingsmill, Thistle’s home was sold for housing) with a hat-trick from the sadly departed Alan Hercher, but mid-table was where that inaugural season petered out too. Ross County, from 12 miles further north in Dingwall also joined the league at the same time, adding a great new derby to the Scottish League, now known as El Kessicko, which draws fantastic crowds to these games. While the following season saw the club still in the bottom league, a great cup run had taken us to the Scottish Cup Quarter-Final and a home tie with Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup’s Rangers! It was ultimately moved to Tannadice, Dundee to accommodate fans more safely, and while we lost 3-0, it was a great day out, providing a wee glimpse of the future, perhaps!
      The club knew it needed a new stadium, a flagship for the merged club, away from the history of either team. Having looked at various sites around the town, the reclaimed land on the edge of Inverness at Longman by the A9 and the Kessock Bridge was chosen. On the 9th November 1996 the Caledonian Stadium was opened with Albion Rovers as the first visitors. It ended in a 1-1 draw, but perhaps the more expansive playing surface at the new ground was to the players liking, as we kicked on that season and won the Third Division title (4th tier). By then Inverness had been added to Caledonian Thistle, giving us one of the longest names in world football, but more importantly, unlike a lot of Scottish clubs, putting the City on the map too. In being awarded City status, like the football team, Inverness has gone from strength to strength. It is one of the most photogenic stadiums in the country, right down by the River Ness, with a view of the Kessock Bridge from the main stand.
      The following season saw a new rivalry ignite. Livingston were the incarnate of Meadowbank Thistle, the team who had denied Inverness Thistle a place in the league all those years ago. On the last day of the ’97/98 season we were staying in the third tier, but Livingston were top, albeit narrowly from the two chasing sides, Clydebank and Stranraer. We won 2-1 and the other two chasing teams also won, seeing Livingston fall from first to third in the space of 90 minutes meaning that they weren’t going up, and oh boy they weren’t happy. Roll the clock forward one year, the penultimate match of the season back at Almondvale, both teams were going up this time to the second tier, but it was a case of who would win the title. Incredibly we were 4-0 down after twenty minutes or so, but pulled it back to 4-3 with plenty time remaining! We threw everything at Livingston, but to no avail. They would go on to gain revenge for the year before by winning the title, but our consolation was in scoring an 88th minute equaliser against Alloa the following week, we may not have won the league, but became the first Scottish team since the twenties to score in every league match in a season!
      Livingston were to crop up in another remarkable piece of history that Barry Wilson, our ex-winger. now coach can always have to his name, Mr Millennium! For some unknown reason, our match with Clydebank kicked off later than every other game on 27/12/1999 in Inverness, and Barry scored the last goal of the last century in Scottish football in a 4-1 win! What is even more remarkable was the first game of the new millennium, we played earlier than every other game, and in scoring the opener at Livingston in a 1-1 draw, he bagged a brace of goals, and a never to be repeated wee claim to fame! A few weeks later on the 8th Feb 2000, ICT went to Celtic Park and beat them 3-1 in the Scottish Cup! It spawned a headline from the press that will never be forgotten, “Super Caley go Ballistic”. It was an incredible result.
      We bedded down in the second flight for a few seasons, and progressed twice in this period to our first ever Scottish Cup Semi-finals. In 2003 we lost 1-0 to Dundee, and the year after, lost 3-2 at Pittodrie in a replay with Dunfermline having drawn 1-1 at Hampden. But the 2003/04 season was to have a wonderful conclusion the first decade in existence. We went on an incredible run and clawed Clyde back at the top of the now Championship. The penultimate game at their Cumbernauld ground, saw a memorable 2-1 win, a result that put us top for the first time in the season, and we duly clinched the title the week after with a 3-1 win at home to St Johnstone. We were headed to the Premier League!!
      Aberdeen was to become our “home” for a passage of time until our stadium was upgraded with sufficient seating to accommodate SPL criteria. The lofty 10,000 seat requirement had been eased to 6,000 that summer, much to Partick Thistle’s disgruntlement, who having finished bottom thought they would stay up when we won the league! In 1996 when the stadium was opened it had a capacity of 5,000 with 2,280 seated in the main stand. The total capacity gradually increased to 6,280, but the seating number remained the same. We played our first 10 home SPL fixtures in Aberdeen, ironically the first was against Dunfermline again! We were to do the home double over Dunfermline that season, beating them by the same score 2-0 upon our return to Inverness in late January 2005, by which time two new seated stands had been added behind both goals taking the capacity to 7,500. It was slightly increased to 7,800 by adding seats to half the terracing opposite the main stand, but this is largely unused, however the record crowd was set on 20th January 2008 with the visit of Rangers seeing 7,753 in attendance. A few weeks before we could move home in 2005, a Scottish Cup “home” tie versus St Johnstone was played at Ross County’s Victoria Ground in Dingwall, with ICT winning 1-0. Not many teams will have played in three “home” venues in one season!
      We established ourselves in the top flight until a poor run of results in 2008/09, coupled with results in the post split period going against us in other matches, culminated in a final day relegation showdown at the Caley Stadium with our nemesis, Falkirk, who needed to win to stay up. They duly got the win, 1-0, marking the first blot on the short and proud history of ICT, relegated after five seasons in the SPL with the highest points total ever. It didn’t look likely for a quick return either, at one point we were 15 points behind Dundee, but like the previous promotion season, we charged toward the end and went on an unbelievable run that saw us back in the top flight at the first time of asking.
      Our 10th season in the top flight saw us finish in 3rd place, and as mentioned previously, also winning the Scottish Cup! Following that was always going to be hard, but as a European football lover, it was always my dream to see my team play abroad. So much so, on 6th July 2005 I was one of only 5 visiting fans in the town of Nykobing, in southern Denmark, to see us lose 2-1 to Nykobing Falsters Alliancien in a friendly, with Liam Fox able to claim our first ever goal on the continent. Three days later one or two more fans had joined as we won our first continental match against the now more famous Nordsjaelland, 1-0 in Farum, with David Proctor grabbing the goal in our first ever overseas win. But having qualified for Europe for the first ever time, an incredible 500 or so Inverness fans flew to Romania and journeyed down to the Bulgarian border town of Giurgiu to see if we could overturn a 1-0 home loss and play West Ham in the next round! Alas, a brave effort in the heat ended 0-0, and sadly we left the European stage without even a goal to cheer, but seeing my team run out that night in Romania was one of the proudest moments for me in the history of the club. My little claim to fame will always be, as none of the other 4 from Nykobing, including Don Taylor and his family made the trip to Romania, so I might be the only ICT fan to see them play the first friendly and competitive games in Europe! It was such a great experience in Romania, I am sure I am not alone in hoping we see the likes again! A future article on Romania to follow, but my one regret was that none of my small “central belt” gang of fans were able to make the trip. I decided to go, and even though I only left Edinburgh at 6am on the day of the game, even with changing plane in Amsterdam and losing two hours in the time difference, I had time to check into my Bucharest hotel and still be across the Danube to Ruse in Bulgaria for a late lunch before heading back to Romania for the game across the water! I had been very lucky in respect of a Port Alegre, Brazil based friend Luciano, who put me in touch with a translator chum in Bucharest, and he very kindly acted as my driver, guide and companion at his first and only ever ICT game, just one seven different countries that have been represented with me at one of our games!   
      The International contingent of ICT followers has undoubtedly been increased by my efforts over the years throughout my considerable chums throughout the world, I am a lucky chap. I have had three Italians at our games, and one most likely has a collection of 600+ ICT programmes as well as having been at 10+ games! The Scottish Cup Final programme and DVD also resides in Skopje, and Buenos Aires, where ten friends have all been through the Caledonian stadium doors, a few of whom got to lift the Scottish Cup, and while only one was here when a game was on, he was at Banff for a friendly with Deveronvale, respect! An American had the misfortune of being at Greenock on a Friday night when we got murdered 5-0! Two Chilean girls ended up at a Scottish Cup tie at Stair Park, Stranraer as they would! The aforementioned Brazilian was at a rare home win versus Motherwell, as was a Bulgarian at Fir Park for an equally rare win the last time we got relegated.
      That International theme I always endeavoured to bring to the Inverness programme for some five years in our first spell in the top flight under the banner “A look at world football”, one of which was written to coincide with Gretna’s first ever visit to the stadium, and especially their Uruguayan player Fabian Yantorno. That article helped start a friendship that has spawned 12 years now, and I have subsequently seen him play in England and Uruguay. Doing these articles for Bryan the editor of the programme got me the proud opportunity to present the Programmes Player trophy to Don Cowie, and as a tipping of the hat to my “foreign” legion, I wore my Racing Club shirt for the occasion, see slide show! It has been a real bone of contention for me that the club have chosen to go down the route of an awful “online” programme, especially in this our 25th year. There was irony in attending the QOS match earlier in the season and to be handed a flyer for a Programme and Memorabilia event at the stadium. A programme is a cherished piece of memorabilia for a fan, and digital is just a nonsense. There, I got that off my chest!!         
      There have been a more lows than highs since with a second relegation from the top flight. If we’d managed to score one or two penalties late that season, or if two St Johnstone players hadn’t both been sent off at Hamilton for fighting each other, gifting points to Accies, we’d have clawed back that one point between the two sides at the final count. Instead, we went down with the second highest ever points in a 12 team top flight, beaten only by our first demotion! One season on, another incredible run towards the end of last season would have brought Play off action to the club for the first time were it not for a very late Dunfermline equaliser in Inverness. This season, the league form started with that “unbeaten” streak, a new club record, albeit a draw or five too many in that amazing 25 league games unbeaten, but clawing back a 3-0 deficit to draw, and nearly winning that game in Dumfries shows that the belief is strong in the squad, although the Scottish Cup Semi Final could prove a distraction, reaching the promotion play offs is still within our grasp, and on our day, while we lack quality or belief at times, we can beat anyone.                       
      So when the dust settles on the first 25 years of our history, wouldn’t it just be magnificent if we could be involved in the Scottish Cup Final and the Play Off Final, and even win them both!!

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    • By tm4tj in Football adventures with James Rendall
         0
      Click to view slideshow. Barrow AFC and AFC Workington are the Cumbrian old guard, both former Football League sides who were both voted out and sent into the non-league wilderness back in the ‘70’s, long before the pyramid system came into being. Neither have troubled the door of the league since, and in one of the most remote coastal areas of England, just surviving is commendable. I paid both clubs a visit in 2014-2015 for a Football Weekends article published in December 2015, and recently updated for blog readership!
      While the histories of both clubs are very different, they are connected, not solely for their proximity, but because of other league teams delighting in getting rid of lengthy treks to the back of beyond as they would have seen it. As soon as either troubled the re-election zone, the bottom four of  the fourth division, sadly the knives were out for them both. It was ironic that they were both voted out in a period when the region’s “big” team, Carlisle United were at the peak of their powers, even briefly leading Division One, a good four decades and a few years ago now!
      BARROW AFC
      Barrow were founded in 1901, and they joined the Football League in 1921. They are based in Barrow-in-Furness which is situated on the coast at the most south westerly point, beyond the Lake District in Cumbria. The club spent the majority of their 51 league seasons in the bottom league, but they did enjoy two promotions to the third tier, the second of which in ‘66/67 saw them stay up for three seasons, until returning to the basement in ‘69/70. Rather harshly, given some clubs were serial re-election seekers, in finishing in the bottom four in ‘71/72, Barrow were ousted in favour of a distinctly more southern club in Hereford United, a club with its own very chequered recent history, but in those days they were trading off “that” Ronnie Radford FA Cup goal versus Newcastle United in the Edgar Street mud that still gets trotted out every year!
      As alluded to earlier, geography played a part in voting out the isolated Bluebirds as they are known. It appears as though the Barrow directors were contemplating putting a speedway track round the Holker Street pitch, and this was frowned upon by the beaks, which may also have hastened their departure, albeit, the track was never built, and having been at the stadium, I have no idea how they could have even managed it, as the ground is hemmed in by roads on two sides.
      Even though no pyramid system existed in those days, Barrow dropped into the Northern Premier League, but even at what is now the seventh tier of the English league, they were only going to be accepted as a participant if they dropped any notion of a speedway!  They remained in that league until the Alliance Premier was formed, essentially the fifth tier forerunner of the National League as it is known today. Barrow were founding members, and while they were subsequently relegated back to the Northern Premier League, and in a yo-yo-ish existence, the climb back to the fifth tier has seen five subsequent relegation’s back to the sixth tier which is now the National League North. Yet, despite occasional financial issues, they have never gone any lower than the sixth level.
      While it is true that they have rarely threatened to make a return to the league as yet, ambition has been on the rise, especially since September 2014, when Dallas based Barrow boy Paul Casson bought the club for £600,000. He celebrated his first season as owner with Barrow winning the sixth tier, and they have been in the National League ever since. Earlier this season Mr Casson decided to step away as the travel from Texas on a regular basis was too much. The club is going down the route of fan ownership, and despite his departure Barrow are having their best season for many a decade, and had it not been for a poor start to the campaign they might have made a play off place, but that will be just out of reach come May I suspect.
      Going into non-league today is not the end of the world that it probably felt in the ‘70’s. In the more regionalised leagues, travel is less arduous but stepping into the fifth tier removes the regional aspect and the distances stretch to Dover at the most southerly point, but the more populated, richer southern satellite towns of London have a significant foothold at this level. All these trips add burden to the finances of such a northerly club, as well as making it trickier to entice quality players to Barrow-in-Furness with long bus trips. A fabled piece of chat is there are proposals to build a causeway bridge across Morecambe Bay, and should such a construction ever appear the Bluebirds fortunes could take a real upturn, as such a bridge would take significant time of journeys, and averting the Lake District day tripping chaos to Lake Windermere as the road just off the M6 presently suffers.
      While the clubs cup CV is about as uninspiring as the league performances, Barrow do have a unique claim to fame, in that they won the FA Trophy twice in more modern times in 1990 and 2010. The first at old Wembley versus Leek Town, and the second at the new Wembley seeing off Stevenage on that occasion. To date they are the only club to have lifted this trophy at both! Another recent cracking day for the club was in 2009 when they reached the FA Cup Third Round, making the “relatively” short cross country trek to Sunderland, well ahead of the Black Cats own downward spiral. A 3-0 loss for Barrow that day, but they played very well, backed by a great away support. They may have lost, but they won many new friends. 
      The club play at Holker Street, ignoring any nonsensical sponsorship deal that may alter that name for a brief period. It is a well maintained “classic” small English ground, but with Health and Safety restrictions now the capacity is just 4,400 with exactly a quarter of that number seated in the stand. It is very much changed days from a record crowd of 16,874 that were shoehorned in to see an FA Cup tie versus Swansea Town in 1954. While the ground will never see the likes again, the future is continuing to look bright for Barrow.
      I headed to Holker Street on the Bank Holiday at the end of August 2015 and I hit those dreadful tailbacks of day trippers headed to the lakes. Southport, another ex-league side who were in town sporting a hideous day glow kit instead of their more Dynamo Dresden shirt, which would not have clashed with Barrow’s white top. Barrow dominated proceedings but could only muster a solitary goal for the win on a gloriously sunny day. Barrow the town is distinctly down at heel, and it might be by the sea, but industry and shipbuilding use every inch of coastline.     
      One interesting footnote between the two clubs in this article came to light following Manchester City’s destruction of Burton in the League Cup Semi-Final 9-0. Those pesky multi-millionaires pushed a Cumbrian League Cup mauling off the roster of the top three biggest League Cup wins, when Barrow beat local rivals Workington, 9-1!
      WORKINGTON AFC 
      Some 60 miles north of Barrow-in-Furness up the unspectacular and industrial Cumbrian coastline is the town of Workington, home to the local side sometimes known as Workington Reds. While they are in the seven tier, the Northern Premier League, the Reds were also once a league club for a good number of years, having been admitted to the Third Division North for the ‘51/52 season. There inaugural season largely set the blueprint for the majority of their 26 league seasons, finishing bottom, and second bottom the following term. In 1958 they made the third round of the FA Cup, hosting Manchester United at Borough Park which drew a record crowd of 21,000! Such an attendance will never be repeated when you consider the capacity is now just 3,100, with seating for 500. This cup tie was just a month before the tragic Munich air crash that claimed the lives of so many talented United players who had won 3-0 at Workington that day.
      The clubs heyday was in the mid-60’s when they were promoted from the bottom tier in 1963/64, even managing a giddy fifth place the following season just missing out on promotion to the Second Division. Alas, this was as good as it got in league terms, but in the same period, the Reds made the League Cup Quarter Finals two years on the trot, losing out to London giants West Ham, then Chelsea the year after, but only after a replay! The highlight of these cup runs and maybe the best result in the clubs history came on 22nd October 1964, when Workington, complete with Keith Burkinshaw and player-manager Ken Furphy beat Blackburn Rovers 5-1 at Ewood Park in the League Cup Third Round.
      The end of the “league” years had a familiar and inevitable ring to it, following Barrow in being voted out just four years later in 1975/76, a devastating blow for Cumbrian football. Finishing second bottom in 1974/75 wasn’t improved the following season finishing one place worse at the very bottom of the pile winning just four games. The re-election process had run its course, and Workington also dropped into the Northern Premier league.
      Unlike Barrow, the Reds’ journey downward did not stop there with a further demotion to the Northern First Division in 1987/88, and then the lowest point in the clubs history, tier 9 and the Northern Counties League ten years later. They bounced out of the ninth level at the first attempt, a league title that remains the clubs only Championship trophy! Reconstruction of the non-league scene aided their return to the Northern Premier even from finishing 7th in 2003/04! There was more joy the following season as they won the first ever play offs at that level to step up to National League North, a modern day high in the sixth tier. They stayed there for a few seasons before going back to the Northern Premier, and have encountered a number of hard luck stories in attempting to return. A few seasons ago, having amassed 91 points it was only good enough for second place and they lost in the play off semi-finals. The following year the encountered ambitious Salford City in the play off final, and leading 2-1 with 11 minutes to go, they ended up losing 3-2  with a heartbreakingly late winner. Those near scrapes have gradually dwindled to merely flirting with the play off zone until this season, when they have nose dived into the relegation places, and it will take a level of consistency they haven’t as yet shown this season to dig themselves out of this particular mess, but I for one hope they do!
      Borough Park, like Holker Street is a cracking throwback to how football stadia used to look. Unfortunately a fire claimed the main stand, and while the underbelly remains the changing rooms and social club, the exterior seating has never been re-built, replaced with an odd slanted red corrugated roof which gives an unusual appearance to one side of the stadium.
      I went along to Borough Park to see the Reds host Mansfield Town in an FA Cup qualifying tie when the Stags were still non-league themselves in October 2012. Workington gave it a good effort, a despite a late flurry of near chances Mansfield progressed 2-1.
      Cumbria’s most famous non-league duo are alive and well. Two leagues apart at present, and with differing priorities, but with moments of magic along the way, both form part of the rich tapestry of the English game, and for those who especially remember their league days, Barrow and Workington somehow continue to conjure up warm recollections of how football used to be!       

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    • By Scotty in Across the Pond
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      TFC edge out the Revs
      Scotty's ViewFromTheSouthStands at Toronto FC
      After a good road win in Philadelphia in week 1 and no game in week two it was back to business this week with the home opener against New England Revolution. The Revs have stuttered out of the gate this season drawing 1-1 in Dallas on week 1 and then losing to Columbus last week in their own home opener but its early days.
      This fixture has gone the way of the home team for the last six games and you have to go back to 2015 to find an away win so hopes were high. The rumoured return of Jozy Altidore to the squad and the imminent arrival of Alejandro Pozuelo also helped buoy the mood and clear the gloom that was the Concacaf Champions League exit at the first hurdle.
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    • By tm4tj in Football adventures with James Rendall
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      Click to view slideshow. Elgin and Inverness are separated by a mere 39 miles of the A96, but a Scottish Cup 4th Round tie (FA Cup Round 3 equivalent!) between the two cities main football teams at the end of January 2017 brought together two old foes (or three?!!). Elgin City FC have a proud Scottish Cup tradition, and they were hosting a top flight team for the first time in 45 years! The visitors Inverness play in the “new” guise of a merged team, and whereas they once went toe to toe for silverware in the Highland League, a three tier chasm existed between the two clubs at that time. The form book goes out the window in such cup ties especially with the hosts playing well and Inverness bottom of the Premier League without a win since late October. It had all the hallmarks of a potential shock, and as the Elgin fans took great joy in singing, “you’re not Caley any more”, it was a hint at those bygone days, and the anticipation of a cracking tie. It had been a “Red” letter day from the minute the draw pitched the two clubs together, but sadly the significance was largely missed by the Central Belt media, but we are used to that!
      As the Black and Whites, Elgin City, and the Blue and Reds of Inverness Caledonian Thistle (ICT) trotted out in front of 3,624 fans, a fabulous crowd, these two names were once three stalwarts of the yesteryear Highland League. Remarkably this was the first ever competitive fixture at Borough Briggs, Elgin’s wonderful home stadium, between the two clubs as they are today! The kick off was even delayed to let the crowd in, a rare occurrence these days sadly!
      They had met once previously, having been drawn together in the same round of the Scottish Cup in January 2010 in Inverness, when two very late goals denied Elgin a deserved replay. Sadly, the Scottish weather caused great issues with furious wintry snow fall across the mountain passes of the A9, thus preventing me from getting up from Edinburgh to see that match. I was doubly determined not to miss this one!
      It’s the weight of the past, nee nostalgia that makes this a special fixture. Given the 22 year absence of regular league matches between Inverness and Elgin, a generation or more have grown up without knowing anything about those days gone by. If you consider the fact that between these “three” Highland Clubs, they have 42 League titles between them (Caledonian 19, Elgin 15, Thistle 8) it emphasises how Caledonian v Elgin was the big fixture of any given Highland League card. Caledonian and Thistle came together as one, albeit it was understandably thorny at the start, joining the league at the same time as Ross County in 1994, thus instigating a “nouveau” derby of Highland significance, amusingly known as El Kessicko, as the Kessick Bridge partly separates the two by the fastest route across the Black Isle! Yet Ross County have a mere three Highland League titles, two arriving in the clubs “purple” patch in the early ’90’s, coupled with them taking some league club scalps in Scottish Cup campaigns in that period too, which nicely coincided with the Scottish League inviting clubs to apply for an expanded league format. Given both ICT and Ross County have both established themselves in the Scottish top flight, and have both won a National Trophy (They held the two big cup trophies, the Scottish Cup and League Cup, briefly at the same time!), their impact on modern day Scottish football is irrefutable but it could have panned out so differently.
      In 1994 it must have been a frustration for Elgin watching these clubs step into the Scottish National League set up, as they had won the 1992/93 Highland League in the clubs centenary year, only to see that title stripped from their grasp?! They had brought a game forward to relieve two players of suspension ahead of a crucial match, needlessly too! I have read more on this shabby incident in recent times, and it seems this practise was not uncommon at the time, but the whole title stripping centred more on a witch-hunt against the Elgin boss, John Teasdale, who was a charismatic character to some, an an outspoken idiot to others. I have signed a petition to get this harsh decision overturned, and the title re-instated for the Borough Briggs team! Had this situation not arisen they surely would have applied to join, and I suspect, they would have been favourites for acceptance ahead of County! As it was, a further expansion six years later allowed Elgin, together with Peterhead to also come out of the Highland League. Neither of them have had the same impact as the pioneers of the northern inclusion, indeed, in many regards the ghost of that title stripping has been slow to clear at Borough Briggs, and they have merely ploughed a furrow in the 4th tier of Scottish football ever since. The signs are that they are getting closer to being able to make that first step up, as they are regulars now flirting near the play off zone, whereas in the earlier years they were sadly jousting with East Stirlingshire predominantly to avoid the bottom spot. This term, a play off looks unlikely, as Elgin would require an Annan collapse to claim fourth spot. They have the fan base, and another game I was at versus Forfar in late 2016 drew a crowd of 1,100, (a rare 4 figure attendance for the basement these days!) and with nearly 4,000 at the Inverness cup tie, the potential is there for Elgin if they can advance. One less known fact outside the highlands, is that Elgin City are the most northerly league team in Scotland!
      With a population of just over 23,000, Elgin is significantly bigger than Dingwall home of Ross County! Elgin is perhaps by normal standards too small to be a city, the same could be said of Brechin with an even smaller population, but both are Cathedral cities and by ancient rules could be classed as a city by virtue. Elgin’s Cathedral is a mere ruin these days, but it is the capital of the Moray Region nearly halfway between Inverness and Aberdeen on the A96, and with no bypass, the traffic shuttling along this main artery can cause very busy roads through the city. The River Lossie flows through Elgin, and is right behind the covered terracing side of Borough Briggs before emerging into the Moray Firth at Lossiemouth a few miles further north on the coast! Until recently, when significant sums were spent on flood prevention, Elgin would suffer all to often from the vagaries of raised river levels. The centre of Elgin is compact as you’d expect of a small city, but it can be very busy. The pedestrian precinct main shopping area is a welcome escape from the traffic, and is a mere 10 minute walk from the stadium. The Bus station is even closer by a couple of minutes, but if you arrive by train, allow 15/20 minute walk to the ground! Bars and places to eat are all in the central area, with no real amenities other than a Tesco or Aldi near the ground. Match day catering will keep you fed and watered inside, all at reasonable prices, served with a friendly smile. A visit to Elgin for any length of time will pitch you right in the middle of many possibilities to taste Highland League action with Lossiemouth, Rothes, Forres, Nairn, Buckie and Keith no distance at all! This is whisky country, with the whole county awash with distilleries, another opportunity not to be missed!
      The Scottish Cup was the only way Highland clubs of yesteryear could pit their wits against clubs from elsewhere, but even with access to such competition more freely available now, the Scottish Cup still has a special place in the heart of a “highland” fan. Elgin’s proudest moment in the National competition came in 1967/68 when they reached the Quarter- Finals of the cup, going down 2-1 away to Morton, but it remains the only occasion a Highland League club has ever got that far, albeit Brora Rangers came mighty close last season. In an earlier round, Elgin drew a crowd of 12,608 (a record crowd, never to be repeated with health and safety constraints, let alone diminished crowd pulling capability of all teams!) packed into Borough Briggs to see them host and beat Arbroath. This ironically is a regular Scottish League fixture now and rarely will it trouble the 800 mark! A few years earlier in 1960 Celtic came calling to Elgin (oddly not the record crowd, only 11,207!) and it is told that two late goals by the Glasgow giants snuffed out an Elgin opener and gave them a 2-1 win, but undeservedly so on the day! History was about to repeat!  
      Given ICT’s horrendous period without a win in the ‘16/17 season, and having been off in “winter shutdown” mode since Hogmanay, would a three week holiday make them ring rusty and allow a buoyant Elgin to claim a famous win? Well in the first half it seemed like a shock was really on! After a reasonable opening by ICT, Elgin grew into the game and were causing real problems for the Inverness back line. Amongst the Elgin forwards was Shane Sutherland, an ex-ICT player, whose claim to fame will probably still make him the toast of Ibrox?! To this today, the fixture at the Caledonian Stadium that season between ICT and Celtic remains the only time that a post split fixture saw two teams in separate “groups” play, as a combination of heavy rain claiming the original date, and Celtic’s heavy fixture card resulted in this anomaly. Big Shane broke free and scored the winner in a 3-2 success for ICT, a result that stopped Celtic going top and effectively helped Rangers win what was there last ever title before meltdown! If the Caledonian Stadium had gone wild that night, Borough Briggs did likewise as Mark Nicolson’s free-kick “trundled” round the wall and over Welsh International keeper Owain Fon Williams to give the hosts the lead. For a period thereafter they had Caley Thistle rocking, and all those uncertainties I’d witnessed in countless games in the last two months of 2016 were rearing their head again. The one bright light that gradually shone brighter and brighter was our on loan starlet from Fulham, Larnell Cole (Andy’s boy!). He’d dribbled through the Elgin ranks once or twice and they were struggling to handle his trickery, and before they could fathom out the best way to stop him, he did it once more this time with great success bringing the tie level, and steadying the panicky visiting fans with a lovely finish. All level at the break, but what a different ICT came out in the second half, controlling the proceedings and pushing Elgin backwards. Only dreary finishing, a common theme in the last few ICT seasons, was preventing another goal. Losana Doumbouya, a hard working lad signed from Cercle Bruges has the right attitude, if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. A variety of glaring chances had been passed up, but eventually the tall striker got the angle right on a header and we were 2-1 up!! Despite continuing to boss proceedings, with only a goal lead you always know the opposition will get another chance, and in those last minutes, throwing caution to the wind, Elgin came within a whisker of scoring an equaliser. Big Shane shanked an effort that might have troubled the keeper or the net. The final whistle brought relief and delight at the visiting end, but Elgin had competed brilliantly and given a glimpse into what a fabulous fixture this would be if a regular on the football roster. I wish Elgin well, indeed, when I can’t get north to watch ICT and they are playing in the central belt I always make an effort to go see them to add my support! We “highland” fans need to stick together in a central belt orientated world!              

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