Confident Raith consortium face new deal deadline

THE investors and supporters who are trying to buy Raith Rovers are just days away from securing the future of the club. Scotland on Sunday can reveal that the latest deadline for a sale imposed by owner Colin McGowan of West City Developments is less than a fortnight away.

The Glasgow-based businessman shows no sign of backing down from his threat to apply for permission to bulldoze Stark's Park and build houses on the site if the takeover does not go ahead.

But McGowan is keen to close the deal and broke his holiday last night to confirm that he is ready to sell the club and its stadium if the buyers meet his price. "We are very close to the deal being done," said McGowan, who has retained his sense of humour throughout a difficult period of negotiations. "We were looking for some acknowledgement of our six years in charge and how we kept the club going, but they rejected the idea of putting our picture in the boardroom."

McGowan originally set a deadline of the start of the season, but after genuine bidders emerged, he moved the date for 'sale or bulldoze' to the beginning of November.

The negotiations became an exercise in brinkmanship, but the preferred bidders for Raith Rovers are confident that they have secured sufficient finance to buy out West City, who are believed to be seeking 1.5m for a complete takeover of the club and its assets, including Stark's Park.

There have been several hitches in negotiations between the new community ownership consortium and the present owners, with West City said to be "sticking to the original deal" despite attempts to negotiate the price downward.

There is now just one major obstacle to finalising the takeover. This is understood to be a financial issue within the club discovered during the 'due diligence' process in which the club's books were investigated, but the community consortium hope to resolve this problem in the next few days.

"The money is there: all we need to do now is close the deal," said company secretary Eric Drysdale, one of the consortium leaders. "We just have to make the final push."

But acknowledging the latest difficulty, a consortium insider added: "It's a very delicate situation, but unless the issue is resolved and we get the deal done, we will have to go back to the negotiating table, and things could be different next time.

"The longer that West City stay in control, the more it is going to cost them to keep the club running, and that could affect the price that is to be paid."

Colin McGowan also is confident the issue can be resolved. He said: "Yes, there is only one thing holding up the deal, but in Scottish football terms it is a very low figure - we're talking about a sum barely into six figures. All the debts have been fully disclosed and in terms of the overall deal it is buttons, really."

So they are not dancing in the streets of Raith quite yet, but the community consortium is confident that West City will sell to their group, which involves Drysdale, former club owner Alex Penman and lifelong fan John Sim, who has extensive business interests in Asia and is believed to be a major investor in the new ownership association.

Sim's involvement came as a result of an approach from Chancellor Gordon Brown, the MP for Kirkcaldy. The two men have a strong link - they are both sons of the manse, their fathers having served as Church of Scotland ministers in Fife, with John Sim's father the minister at Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church. Brown has been crucial in persuading several local businesses and wealthy Fifers to back the buyout, but arguably even more vital has been the Reclaim the Rovers campaign organised by the supporters club, the Raith Rovers Trust and the local newspaper, the Fife Free Press.

Reclaim the Rovers set itself a target of raising 100,000 so that campaigners could play an active role in the future of the club, and that target could be reached early next week when the proceeds are counted following another fund-raising effort at yesterday's home match against Morton.

Several celebrities have come forward to pledge their support and help for the community buyout. Authors Ian Rankin and Val McDermid as well as rock star Guy Berryman from Coldplay are among those pledged to back the campaign.

One celebrity who was mystified to find himself listed among the supporters helping to buy Raith Rovers was painter Jack Vettriano, who is known to have followed East Fife since schooldays. Such allegiances in the Kingdom are not to be traduced lightly.

"The celebrity support has been very helpful in that it has attracted more local investment," said the consortium source, "but until the actual deal is done it means nothing."

For his part, McGowan maintains that there have been "no problems" on the part of West City developments. McGowan has suffered considerable abuse from fans in the past, but yesterday he was in conciliatory mood, praising those who have led the buyout.

"Eric Drysdale's efforts have been nothing short of magnificent, and it is absolutely great that the Chancellor took such an interest," said McGowan.

"It is good to see powerful people who have the ear of celebrities and successful people being able to persuade them to invest in a community club.

"I won't accept a pound more or a pound less than I originally agreed and there are principles at stake, but I have not made it difficult and I did, after all, extend the original deadline. Also, as a businessman, I know that the land with planning permission for housing is worth considerably more than we are selling for."

The long-suffering fans of the Second Division club with the Premierleague stadium are surely now just days away from seeing a brighter future.

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