JIM LEISHMAN knows football can be brutal. He can recall relegations and the hurt felt at missing out on promotion.
He has also suffered the lows of being sacked and of having his own playing career cut short due to injury but he says he has rarely felt as deflated as he has this week, seeing the club he loves teeter on the brink and some people he considers his “chums” lose their jobs while others are fretting they could be next.
While redundancies have proved unavoidable, he insists there is still the will to save the club, but he says it has to be a more collaborative effort or the reality is that the misery of the past few days will only be multiplied in the coming weeks.
“There has been a lot of sadness, a lot of anger and bitterness and a lot of worry this week. For everyone associated with Dunfermline Athletic,” says the club legend. “It hasn’t been a nice week. Seeing players being told they are losing their jobs, through no fault of their own, is tough. These players have been brilliant in the circumstances, they have not been getting their wages for a while now but even with all that stuff at the back of their minds, they never once went out there to get beat. They gave their best.
“I wasn’t in the meeting with them but I saw them when they came out. I think the saddest thing for me was seeing the players coming out that meeting with the administrator and they were all gathered together in the Kingdom Suite and they were all shaking hands and wishing each other the best. That was really sad because the boys were gutted and it was through no fault of their own because these players have been brilliant in really difficult circumstances.
“Jim Jefferies [pictured below] has been trying to keep everything together, he knows these boys so well and knows how professional they have been and he had to read out the names of the boys who were being made redundant. He won’t get paid from now to the end of the season but he wants to help the club. He wanted to be in with his players on Thursday. He has shown dignity, they all have, and the fans showed their appreciation after the game against Falkirk because they stood at the end and clapped them off the pitch.”
There was a time when 4,000 fans marched on East End Park simply to protest the departure of Leishman from the Dunfermline dug-out. But that was more than two decades ago, in an era where the average home gate was over 10,000. On Wednesday, the fans in attendance may have applauded the players but, at a time when the club needs them more than ever, they numbered fewer than 3,000.
An optimist by nature, Leishman believes the club can be saved but even he acknowledges that they are deep into stoppage time. With the interim administrator admitting that things look bleak, and progress needing to be made over the next ten days to ensure the process can be given the time it ultimately needs, a team effort is needed to safeguard the rich history of the club. Part of the steering group which was brought in during the drive to avoid administration or liquidation, Leishman says there was a sense of frustration at failing to find a solution.
“We had to hand it back to [owner]Gavin Masterton and tell him it was unfortunately up to him how he took the club forward. We made amazing leaps and bounds when we came in, to get people around the table and to get Gavin Masterton to agree to certain things, but we didn’t have enough time. Everything has been left too late.
“Ex-directors have put a lot of money into this club and they have lost a lot but we have tried to get them back on board, get all the supporters’ clubs together, all the different organisation as one, but that has been difficult and they have all got different reasons. The biggest disappointment for me is that we have not been unified. All the supporters have the same aim and objective and that’s for Dunfermline to survive but they all have different ideas about how to achieve that and that might not be the best thing for the club because we need to do something quickly if we want to make it to the end of the season, let alone build on this club’s incredible history. Time is running out and I don’t think I’m being melodramatic saying that. “
Leishman is himself a creditor but he won’t take another penny from the club unless its future is secured, saying “that doesn’t make me a hero but my conscience wouldn’t let me”. For others, working for free simply isn’t an option – which is why Leishman is dreading the next couple of days. With the initial cuts made to the playing and coaching staff, the next job is to address the non-playing staff. Interim administrator Bryan Jackson has said he will do that within the next 48 hours. He says he does not envisage such “brutal” cuts this time, saying it is more likely to be the “tweaking” of working hours but everyone is bracing themselves.
Leishman knows his perspective on life is different from many other folks’ – the death of his beloved wife saw to that. But he recognises that everything is relative and for those who don’t have such personal pain to compare life’s setbacks to, the mental anguish will be severe.
“Most of these people are my pals and we have worked together and chummed together and it’s going to be rotten to be part of that but I want to be here with them. In football you get used to setbacks, you know it’s nothing personal and you move on. I have that experience and since Mary died, my attitude has been different anyway. My granddaughter was born last week so you recognise what is important and focus on the positive but that doesn’t mean to say that bills don’t have to be paid. People have mortgages to pay, kids to provide for, so this will be a worrying weekend for a lot of the staff. It has been a nervous time for months now, but now it’s coming to a head, so for the players and staff it is devastating.
“There is a lot of sadness but there’s anger as well. The players, the staff, the supporters are all angry [because] it should never have been left this late. People are unhappy with the communication and the way this has been handled but we now need to think about the future. We need to make sure Dunfermline Athletic has a future. But we have to be more realistic, we need to work together and we need to do it quickly.”