Falkirk lose out as SPL closes ranks and denies them place

THE members of the Premierleague ensured yesterday that a wave of inertia would envelop the competition for the second time in four years, giving enduring clarity to the message that unsuitable candidates need not apply. Scotland’s elite division once again turned its back on an application by Falkirk to join, despite them having earned the sporting right to promotion by winning the First Division.

A vote by the 12 member clubs of the top flight saved its bottom club, Motherwell, from relegation, throwing out the Stirlingshire club’s proposals to share a ground with Airdrie United until their own stadium, at Westfield, is constructed.

Falkirk finished third in the First Division in 1999/2000 but were denied promotion along with St Mirren and Dunfermline because of the inadequacies of Brockville, the ground they have now sold to a supermarket chain.

The decision saved Aberdeen from relegation because the privilege of playing in the Premierleague is not extended to the team who finishes immediately below one falling foul of the league’s criteria, a blueprint established when the top clubs broke away from the Football League in 1997.

Falkirk failed to fulfil the requirements of having a 10,000 all-seated home in bricks-and-mortar form. The club yesterday threatened legal action. They already have the political support of Dennis Canavan, the MSP for Falkirk West, who has raised a motion on the issue in the Scottish Parliament.

"Naturally we are bitterly disappointed, because we put forward a robust case for promotion," said the Falkirk chairman, Campbell Christie.

"Our legal advice was that our interim stadium arrangement was robust. We will be asking the SPL to explain their decision.

"This is a blow for the club, especially when our team won our division so convincingly and with work underway at our new stadium.

"We are sorry for our players and our fans. Many of them will not be surprised by the SPL’s decision. Until we decide how we will respond to the SPL decision, a period of uncertainty will remain that makes planning for next season even more difficult."

Lex Gold, chairman of the Premierleague - whose other task yesterday was to rubber-stamp the withdrawn threat from the rebel clubs to resign from the structure - deflected accusations that Scotland’s elite division has become a closed shop.

"That’s just one interpretation," said Gold. "The other is that there are clubs in division one who would be less than pleased if Falkirk were to come up.

"That is not a view I’ve expressed, it is a view they have expressed. I should imagine there will be divided opinion on the subject.

"I do appreciate that Falkirk will be very disappointed; they have a very good board who are a credit to the club. But the judgment was made against a background of a great deal of information. The voting was done by ballot and I won’t reveal who voted in what way."

At Motherwell, the sense of relief was palpable, so demoralising was the idea of a club in administration being sent down to the Football League.

"Playing in the SPL next season will ensure the club will remain on a sound financial footing," declared Bryan Jackson, the administrator. "We are fully aware that today we have been thrown a lifeline."