Jim Leishman has described the quest to rescue his beloved Dunfermline Athletic from the precipice of extinction as “mission impossible” as he takes the helm of the financially-crippled Fifers.
As if to illustrate the accuracy of his words, it has emerged that the East End outfit could be served with a winding-up order within 24 hours over arrears, believed to be in the region of £50,000, due to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) which is required to be paid tomorrow.
The amount is a portion of the club’s total debt owed to the taxman, which stands at £134,000, while staff have only been paid 55 per cent of their total wages for this month.
In another ominous admission, the ‘steering group’ charged with rescuing the club following the decision of majority shareholder, Gavin Masterton, to relinquish his board position, confirmed the SPL parachute payment of £125,000 due to be delivered in August 2013 has been received – and spent.
The bleak financial outlook raises the possibly, acknowledged by Leishman, that the 128-year-old Fife institution could be taking its last breaths. The lifelong Pars fan, however, is not willing to let it go out with a whimper.
Leishman is heading the newly-formed group which will take over day-to-day control of the football club from Masterton and his two daughters, Karen Masterton and Tracey Martin. “This is the hardest thing in my life – the hardest thing I have ever been asked to achieve at this football club,” said the 59-year-old. “I took over in 2005 with three games to save the club from relegation, that was mission impossible, this is a little bit harder. But we got there, and we got there because we were all in it together.
“Will I do it? I don’t know. I can’t do it myself, that is for sure. There is a short period to save this football club – maybe two weeks, maybe three, maybe four. But I cannot have negativity.”
Despite outlining a time frame of around two to four weeks to save the club, failure to find the five-figure sum for the tax authorities tomorrow could accelerate matters.
“We need money by Friday,” warned Leishman. “Bringing staff wages up to date is a priority, however we need to prioritise further, and staff cannot shut you down. HMRC can shut you down. We need to find a solution for that. HMRC are due money this week and they are due money next week. It is not the whole [£134,000] amount, but it is a notable sum. We also owe staff £35,000 in wages.”
Chairman John Yorkston will also step down after 14 years at the club following the completion of the upcoming share issue which, the steering group insist, will still be launched in the coming days despite delays. However the divisive Masterton will continue to own a 94 per cent stake in the club and, even if the share issue is fully subscribed and raises a pivotal £500,000, he will own at least 75 per cent.
This point was made vociferously by a small band of protesters outside East End Park yesterday, one holding a banner stating: ‘Same Master, New Puppet’.
In an unorthodox bid for unity among supporters, Leishman invited the disillusioned fans into what became a raucous press conference, before launching into a vehement denial that his work at the club would be influenced by the majority shareholder.
Instead, he claims only the opinions of the steering group – including Bob Garmory of the club’s principal sponsor Purvis Group, Stephen Taylor, a financial expert from accountancy firm Carter’s, and club legend Roy Barry – will be given countenance. “Something which has really hurt me in the past few days is people accusing me of being a lackey for Gavin Masterton,” said an impassioned Leishman, formerly a player, manager and director of football at the club.
“Well, let me say: ‘I am a lackey’. I am a lackey for Dunfermline Football Club, the fans, the staff and for the players. I will do anything they want for the football club. However Gavin Masterton will relinquish his day-to-day control of this club. The steering group, which I am head of, will take control of the running of this football club, otherwise I am not doing it. That was agreed. Nobody will tell me what to do except my colleagues on the steering group. We are not Gavin’s lackey’s. If I get any interference I will walk away.”
The attempts of Leishman to unify the Pars fan-base continued last night as he met with the Pars Supporters Trust and head of Supporters Direct, Paul Goodwin.
Leishman will also hold a meeting this evening with The Pars Community, who are keen to see Dunfermline become a fan-run club and endured an increasingly bitter relationship with Masterton. Indeed it was confirmed yesterday that the Fife outfit now see becoming a supporters-owned club as the “only” path to take in the future.
However, discussing the long-term future of the football club at the moment appears optimistic in the extreme. Asked simply whether Gavin Masterton and the outgoing directors had left their departures too late to save Dunfermline, a morose Leishman added, finally: “I will tell you in three weeks.”