Simply being the manager of Livingston, a club marooned at the foot of the Scottish Championship and seemingly always on the cusp of some new catastrophe, is a challenging enough prospect.
However, Mark Burchill has been forced to combine his coaching duties with life as an amateur psychologist as he attempts to guide his young squad through a typically tumultuous campaign in West Lothian. Livi’s place at the foot of the second tier can largely be attributed to being docked five points by the SPFL due to financial irregularities in November.
It’s a cup final, on TV, and I want them to showcase their talentLivingston coach Mark Burchill
They have been hit with numerous fines throughout the campaign and are currently subject to a registration embargo after majority shareholder Neil Rankine was found guilty of breaching dual ownership rules.
Burchill, who only replaced John McGlynn in December, candidly admits that the incessant negative headlines surrounding the club have been a heavy burden on his players.
“I think the off-the-pitch situation is where 90 per cent of the problems have come from this season,” he said. “We have a young squad which has struggled to deal with that.
“These are young players who are not earning an awful lot of money – their livelihoods are at stake with the things they see off the park. It becomes difficult to cope.
“It is new to them, but I’ve seen most things in football so my job is to try to give them advice and pass on your experience, and attempt to get them to focus on things on the pitch – which they can affect.
“Every player will say it doesn’t affect them – it does.
“You are not just a coach here, you are a psychologist – 100 per cent. It is about talking to the lads every day and being open and honest with them and helping them through things.”
Little wonder, then, that Burchill describes this afternoon’s Petrofac Training Cup final against Alloa as a “welcome distraction” to the weekly grind of their battle for survival. He has urged his young players to embrace the freedom of a cup final and accept the challenge of emulating the storied Livingston side which claimed the CIS Cup in 2004.
“We can play with a bit of freedom and enjoy ourselves,” continued the former Scotland striker. “Hopefully this afternoon they can express themselves without having to worry about what other teams are doing.
“I want them to forget about everything else – it is a cup final, it’s on TV and I want them to showcase their talent.
“The guys who won the CIS Cup are heroes and I’ve been telling the boys that. They are in Livingston folklore, with pictures of that team with the cup all over the stadium. Can we be the next team to do it? I don’t see why not.
“I’ve said all along that we could still survive in the league and win a cup this season, and the players have bought into that, and that would be a fantastic achievement from a challenging season.”
Should Livingston claim the trophy this afternoon, few will appreciate it as much as midfielder Scott Pittman, who believed his chance of full-time football had long gone after four years in the Junior ranks. The 22-year-old was a teenager of some repute at Hamilton, but ultimately failed to break into the first team and was released in 2011 following a miserable loan spell at, coincidentally, Alloa.
However, after rediscovering his passion for the game with Broxburn Athletic – playing under his dad, Steve – and Bo’ness United, he won a move to his hometown club Livingston in January.
“Things didn’t really work out for me when I had the chance at senior level as a youngster. I didn’t get much playing time or real opportunities,” recalled Pittman.
“When I went on loan to Alloa that was the point when I really wasn’t enjoying it. I thought about leaving football. I went to play with my dad’s team [Broxburn] so that I could just start enjoying my football again and, thankfully, that is what happened. I was doing roadworks at the same time as I was playing – and my old man was my boss there as well. But I wanted to get back to full-time football and I’m delighted to have done that. To now play in a cup final is a real privilege.”