End of the line for Airdrie

THE Scottish Football League is not in the habit of shutting down its member clubs, and the organisation has done more than most to protect the futures of ailing clubs when the future has looked bleak.

Clubs such as Clydebank and Morton have been cut plenty of slack when the books have failed to balance, but when Airdrie went into liquidation yesterday, not even Peter Donald, the secretary of the SFL, could offer hope. Under league rules, a club loses its membership of the SFL if it goes into liquidation. Yesterday, one of the country’s oldest clubs forfeited its right to play senior football when the liquidator, KPMG, announced that attempts to find a buyer for the debt-ridden organisation have been abandoned.

Debts stood at approximately 3 million, and a two-year period of administration showed no signs of returning the club to a going concern.

The demise is made all the more remarkable by the standard of football achieved in recent seasons. Airdrie reached the Scottish Cup final in 1992 and again in 1995, and were serious challengers for promotion to the Premier League for most of this season.

Unlike Third Lanark, the last senior club to go out of business back in 1967, the name of Airdrie could live on, after being put up for sale, and there remains hope amid the gloom that a team called Airdrie could survive, but its existence in the Scottish First Division appears to be beyond saving.

A meeting of the SFL management committee next week is expected to recommend that Falkirk will not now be relegated from the First Division, and will take Airdrie’s place. In the Second Division, relegated Stenhousemuir are also set to win a reprieve. This will leave a vacancy in the Third Division - which the buyer of Airdrie’s name could apply for.

Blair Nimmo, of accountancy firm KPMG, announced that the club’s assets have been put up for sale, but there is not much left to shift.

The contracts of the manager and players expired at the weekend, and the only other assets, along with the club’s name, are a small commercial property in the centre of town, and the stadium. Even the 10,000-seater ground can hardly be considered an asset - the land is not owned by Airdrie, but by North Lanarkshire Council. In fact, the stadium has been more of a burden than an asset, due to the crippling 6.5 million cost of construction.

Nimmo believes that there could still be a buyer for the stadium, and wasted no time in making an open invitation to Celtic to buy the ground and use it as a training base for just 1 million. The Scottish Premier League champions already use New Broomfield Stadium for reserve matches.

"Somebody will come forward because it is such a good stadium," said Nimmo. "It is almost new and cost 6.5 million to build. We would want at least a seven-figure sum for it.

"It would be ideal for community use by the local council - or for a club like Celtic to use it as a training ground."

The stadium was built by Barr Holdings, the company owned by Ayr United chairman Bill Barr. Barr is the club’s major creditor and is owed 400,000.

Nimmo said: "It’s a straightforward sale like selling your house. You put it up for sale, someone gives you what they consider to be the best offer and the highest price will win.

"That price will then be applied to all the creditors that are owed."

Barr has been identified as the villain by aggrieved Airdrie supporters, who showed their frustration when they forced the abandonment of last weekend’s Ayr United v Airdrie fixture at Somerset Park by invading the pitch and destroying the goalposts.

Barr had been in negotiations for a number of months with a consortium that called itself New Broomfield Management.

New Broomfield Management was granted preferred bidder status by KPMG after it was withdrawn from the original holder of that title, Steve Archibald, last season, but the deal stalled in December and although the team carried on under manager Ian McCall, the takeover was never completed.

"Barr Holdings have tried to achieve a solution," insisted Nimmo. "People should be aware that had it not been for the Barr organisation a year ago the club would have ceased to exist."

For his part, a saddened Peter Donald could only offer Airdrie fans a straw to clutch at when he explained that a place could be secured in the Third Division, only to dampen any revived spirits by adding that it Airdrie would not be guaranteed first option on any vacancy. Previously unsuccessful aspirants such as Huntly, Gala Fairydean and Gretna would be expected to express an interest once more, along with Deveronvale and Cove Rangers.

"Whoever took over would have to satisfy the requirements of the league including a financial record," said Donald. "Other clubs who apply will have a track record while the new club will have none. It would be a challenge for them."

Over at North Lanarkshire Council, leader Jim McCabe insisted the battle is not lost yet.

"We will continue to work with KPMG and all interested parties to secure a positive outcome," said McCabe. "While this decision is a disappointment to everyone involved in the fight to save Airdrie Football Club, we will continue our efforts to ensure a future for Airdrie in Scottish football."

The obituaries for Airdrie have been written too many times over the past couple of seasons, and this time it appears that reports of the club’s death are no longer exaggerated. For many supporters and observers, however, this will only become reality when the new season kicks off without the 124-year-old name of Airdrieonians Football Club on the fixture list.