ST JOHNSTONE manager Tommy Wright claims small clubs are being “financially punished” by long-haul Europa League trips – but insists he is still desperate to keep the Perth club’s run going.
The McDiarmid men flew to Belarus yesterday morning for tonight’s third-qualifying-round tie against FC Minsk, the first leg of which takes places in the city of Grodno, 140 miles west of the former Soviet state’s capital, while Minsk’s Dinamo Stadium is redeveloped.
Saints chairman Steve Brown has been hit with a £4,500 bill just to cover the cost of fast-tracked visas for his squad, while another hefty sum will be due after the club had to charter its own plane and then pay to keep the tiny Grodno Airport open until after the game so they could return home.
The winner of the tie will earn £86,000 but any profit Saints make will be minimal – if that. Northern Irishman Wright has backed Motherwell boss Stuart McCall – whose club face a bill of around £180,000 for travelling to Russia to face Kuban Krasnodar – after he called for the early rounds of the tournament to be regionalised.
“I know from my time in the Irish League some of the trips that part-time clubs are asked to make and financially it was costly,” the former Lisburn boss said. “Getting into Europe should be looked upon as a reward for doing well. But it’s as if you’re being financially punished because you get some horrendous trips. A lot of the time there is no chance of going through either, because of the clubs you are up against. So I do agree with Stuart, it should be regionalised. But then again, we only work in the game, we don’t run it.”
Around 400 fans made the trip to Trondheim to see their team beat Rosenborg 1-0 in the first leg of the last round, but a second long journey in the space of a fortnight and a narrow five-day period to arrange visas has limited the club’s travelling support to a mere handful this time.
In spite of the complexities of making it to Grodno, Wright insists it has not dampened his enthusiasm for the continental action. He said: “For the players and the staff, these things don’t affect us. But the work that has to go on behind the scenes has been tough. From TMG – the company that is taking us over – to our football administrator Paul Smith and everyone else, they have had to work non-stop just to get us there.
“We’ve got everything sorted out now and we have just got to concentrate on the game now. Would all the hassle put me off getting to this stage again? No. It might put the chairman off but not me. There is a cost to this tournament and it is quite evident that the Europa League isn’t the gravy train that the Champions League is. Not at this stage anyway.
“As long as the club does not lose money then it is something you want to be involved in. If we get a good result out there then hopefully we will get 8,000 or more again at McDiarmid for the next leg and benefit financially from that. We want to be in the competition for as long as possible and it’s important for our club and Scottish football that we do.”