Normally on a Friday, the Dunfermline players, for a bit of fun after a long week of training, briefly forget the tactics for the next day’s game and organise themselves into teams for a young v old players challenge match.
At Pitreavie yesterday, however, it was a case of young players against even younger ones. There were barely any older ones left.
The previous afternoon, in what was just the latest savage cull at a Scottish football club, the majority of experienced professionals had been told that they were being made redundant, only 24 hours after several of them had put their bodies on the line for Dunfermline against old foes Falkirk.
Yesterday was Black Friday for the club. For those cut adrift, the news could not have come at a worse, or more impractical, time. The Easter holiday weekend made it doubly hard to be registered with another club before tomorrow’s signing deadline.
Club captain Jordan McMillan, however, is one of the lucky ones, and has been picked up already by promotion chasing Partick Thistle, while goalkeeper Paul Gallacher is in talks with Ross County. Andy Dowie, meanwhile, has joined McMillan at Thistle.
Jim Jefferies was midway through speaking to reporters when he took the call from McMillan, who had wanted to inform his manager personally of the development. In normal circumstances, the transfer of one of his best players to a rival club would not represent good news for Jefferies, but the man forever cast as a doom merchant beamed while he spoke to McMillan. Jefferies is recovering from one of his most draining experiences in football management, which had occurred the previous afternoon. It rates as worse than the time he himself was sacked by his beloved Hearts.
At least then, it was only himself and Billy Brown, his assistant, who he felt responsible for. On Thursday, he was unwittingly cast as the executioner, when he was handed the bit of paper containing the names of the players selected to be let go by PKF, the interim administrators. Understandably, the PKF employee involved could not match up the names with the players, who all sat waiting to learn their fate in the same bleak room.
Horrifyingly, Jefferies found himself pointing out those who were being made redundant. “It was thrown at me a bit,” he recalled yesterday. “On the spur of the moment, I was asked to pick them out. I was only identifying the players. I did not know the names on the list until it was handed to me.”
Jefferies is the latest heroic figure to emerge from the financial wasteland that is Scottish football. He has elected to continue working for what it costs in petrol money to transport him to Fife each day from his home in the Borders. Dunfermline, with Jefferies’ assistant Gerry McCabe having been made redundant yesterday after training, are fortunate to have Neil McCann, a first-team coach, already working for nothing. Indeed, McCann would have been prepared to push himself back into action today against Livingston at the age of 39 if he wasn’t recovering from a knee operation. The former Scotland player turned out for stricken Dundee two years ago when his former club were placed in administration, scoring a memorable winner against Raith Rovers.
In the usual way of a football club, it was possible to detect some lightness of mood yesterday. A ball at the feet contains magic properties when it comes to trying to lift depression, as the reconfigured squad of just 18 players, some of whom will be pushed into first-team action for the first time in this afternoon’s clash at Livingston, trained in some welcome spring sun.
There was still a chill in the air. That is to be expected when living in the shadow of liquidation. Margaret Ross, the chairperson of the Pars Supporters Trust, stopped by, to hand over the latest monetary contribution from fans, to cover such expenses as filling the kit van with petrol, which was listed among the most pressing needs yesterday.
The Staff Support Fund reached £5,500 recently, but will need to be topped-up again, as funds run low, and more players feel encouraged to make a request for a contribution, after initial hesitancy. “At first, many were a bit reticent to come forward, but three people manage the account, including someone from the playing side,” explained Ross. “It is anonymous, so no-one knows who is getting help.”
The football factory floor can be a cruel place, and fierce pride exists. No-one wants to admit they have been broken, although in this case, the only ones being judged are those who brought the club to such a low point. Among the culprits, as Scottish football reaches a perverse new low, is the former treasurer and managing director at the Bank of Scotland, Gavin Masterton. The club’s majority shareholder has overseen the plunge into administration. He had his first meeting with interim administrator Bryan Jackson yesterday as a way forward from debts totalling as much as £10 million, much of which is due to the Masterton family, is sought.
Paul Gallacher is an articulate witness to the mess that has enveloped all at East End Park, and he didn’t spare Masterton yesterday. The goalkeeper was back at Pitreavie to say his goodbyes, while also finding time to conduct a series of candid interviews. He was particularly aghast at the way such sensitive news as his departure leaked out on Thursday. “I hadn’t even told my wife yet, yet it was on Facebook and all sorts,” he lamented. “She phoned me in tears after finding out from a third party. That is devastating.”
Masterton, he added, had last addressed the players just before Christmas. “That lack of information is so hard to take,” he said. ‘When you hear quotes coming from the administrator that it is the worst situation he has ever seen, it makes you wonder how things got to this stage. He [Masterton] told us things would be fine at this club by New Year. We were promised it was a cash-flow problem. I would hate to find out what he thinks a serious problem is if that was just a cash-flow problem.”
Perhaps most devastatingly of all, Gallacher described the way the players were treated on Thursday, and though he understands the administrators had a job to do, he criticised the need for it to happen the way it did, as the axed personnel were transferred from room to room, like cattle on the way to the slaughter house. “I am not having a go at the administrator, as he had to deal with things, and was forced into it, but the way we were treated yesterday, animals have been treated better,” said Gallacher.
Inside the facility at Pitreavie where we talked, to the left of the bar and next to a collection of opposition club pennants, there is a board on which is written what could count as a mission statement for Dunfermline Athletic. It details the club’s history, underlining how an institution that has been in place since 1885 hands the local community a sense of heritage and identity.
“Footballers who have graced East End Park, finding fame and renown in the process, are too numerous to list here,” it says. “But it would be remiss if this tribute to local heroes did not mention players such as Roy Barry, Stevie Crawford, Alex Ferguson [Sir], Willie Callaghan, Charlie Dickson, Alex Smith, Eddie Connachan, George Peebles, Bert Paton…
“And the list goes on,” it adds. And so, too, do the Pars, for now.