Gretna are on the long road back

THE ceaseless march of football makes it easy to forget that this time last year Gretna were a fully-fledged top flight club. On the corresponding weekend last season Davie Irons took his team to face Rangers at Ibrox, where they played in front of almost 50,000 people.

Another time, another place. And another life for Irons. On Tuesday night he was spotted galloping across the Easter Road turf to embrace his Morton players after an epic 4-3 win over Hibs in the Co-Operative Insurance Cup. Mick Wadsworth, who took over as caretaker manager from Irons when the lifeblood began to visibly drain from Gretna, has been linked with a coaching job in St Kitts and Nevis. All the while weeds continue to creep up the disused floodlight pylons at Raydale Park, the extinct football club's old home.

Last week saw Gretna officially placed in liquidation, although it has been a formality since the club resigned from the Scottish Football League in June. This was the endgame anticipated by the illness which struck down Brooks Mileson, the club's eccentric and now ailing benefactor. Little has been heard of Mileson since February, although Carlisle United are now pursuing him for sponsorship money owed by the Sunderland-born businessman. On the same day that insolvency firm Wilson Field filed Gretna's liquidation papers Mileson was being described as "too slow and retarded" to attend a court in Carlisle. A medical professor was quoted as saying that although the exact nature of his illness remains unclear, "its effects are evident". The judge ruled that medical evidence must be provided in ten weeks to prove Mileson is unfit to fight the case.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

When surveying the wreckage of a club which had existed since the 1940s it is difficult to escape the feeling that the locals have been poorly served. As ever in such times the fans, along with those local small businesses among the long list of creditors, have born the emotional and economic brunt, but have impressed with their fortitude. A new club, called Gretna 2008, has won each of three competitive games this season after their application to join the East of Scotland League was accepted. A year ago it was Ibrox, this afternoon it is the Civil Service Sports Ground in Muirhouse, for a date with the Civil Service Strollers.

The last time Gretna played an Edinburgh-based side was at the end of last season, when the club signed-off with a 1-0 win over Hearts. Gretna subsequently folded, but the club badge prevails, as does redoubtable former chairman Ron McGregor.

The administrator was quite helpful on this bit of detail," he reported this week. "He (David Elliot] let Gretna 2008 buy the rights to the old club badge. And the team wear black and white hoops. At the public meeting held to set up the club there was a very strong desire voiced to go back to the old black and white hoops. The move away from that, to white tops, was one of the cosmetic changes implemented under Brooks Mileson's management."

McGregor was surprised to receive a call from Mileson earlier this month. "We have a mobile number that he used when he was in better health," he said. "Most of the time it goes unanswered. Just once we had a reply from him to say he was still in the hands of neurologists at Newcastle. His voice was certainly not his normal speaking voice. Most of the conversation, you won't be surprised to hear, consisted of a bit of a diatribe against the administrator."

McGregor provides the old Gretna with a link to its old English Northern League past of tottie scones and generous drams. He is one of the few who have remained. Mileson moved on to fight another battle, while the players have scattered to the four winds.

McGregor has watched all of Gretna 2008's games this season, and clearly yearns for the day when they will play back in the small border town. At present the team is based in nearby Annan, the town of rivals – and chief beneficiaries of Gretna's demise – Annan Athletic. Elliot, now the liquidator, has not been receptive to the new club's wish to hire out Raydale Park on a game-by-game basis. He is concerned it gives the impression of squatters at a time when he is seeking to entice bids for the land.

There is some activity at Raydale Park, although it occurs in the car park. The Sunday market which sustained Gretna during their non-league days remains, and provides a modest income stream for the liquidator.

This sum will go towards paying back those creditors who next gather on 11 September, at a hotel in Carlisle rather than Gretna. McGregor suspects the change of venue is because "a lot of resentment remains in the town". Clearly not everyone has moved on.