Monday, May 19, 2008

Scotland: The Fairytale Ends for Gretna

For the little guy who dreams of an opportunity to play with the big boys, the story of Scottish squad Gretna FC should serve as a cautionary tale. This week the 40 remaining players and staff of the Scottish Premier League's last-place side were laid off in what may be the final chapter of a storybook run turned sour.

After spending its first 56 seasons in the non-league levels of English football, Gretna, located on the England-Scotland border, joined the Scottish Football League's Third Division in 2002. Once multimillionaire Brooks Mileson took charge in 2003, Gretna's miracle ascent was underway. The squad earned promotions in three consecutive seasons from 2005-2007, moving from the Third Division to the Scottish Premier League. In 2006, they were a shootout loss in the final away from the Scottish Cup, earning a UEFA Cup berth in the process. Their rapid rise became the topic of heartwarming books, but the good vibes came to a halt this season.

The club's infrastructure was by no means ready for Premier League football and Gretna's maiden voyage at the top level of Scottish football was a disaster. Gretna managed only 13 points this season, 27 back of their nearest competitor. But the action on the field was the least of the team's problems. Since their home field did not meet SPL standards, Gretna made a 150-mile round trip to Motherwell's home ground, Fir Park, for each "home" game. That resulted in crowds as small as a league-record low 431 fans against Inverness.

In March, Mileson took ill, withdrawing his financial support in the process, and things really started to unravel. Unable to pay player salaries, the league had to bail Gretna out and the resulting 10-point penalty for entering administration sealed the club's already-inevitable relegation.

Now with debts of roughly four million pounds, Gretna are hoping a buyer will emerge and save the squad. Even if a savior does arrive, there are no guarantees Gretna will be welcomed back into the First Division next season. In the end, Gretna fans may be living unhappily every after.

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