Partick Thistle could be forced to go part-time as reality bites

The threat of part-time football is perceived as exactly that, a danger towards clubs of a historically high standing within the game.

Partick Thistle are likely to battle those perceptions in the not-too distant future. As the club struggles against the latest harsh realities of finance, and on this occasion without any obvious means of solution, their full-time status is under serious threat. Allan Cowan, the chairman, makes no apologies for that.

"There is a stigma attached to part-time football but, let me tell you, when you are a club director just now there ain't no stigma," Cowan explains. "When I was a young man watching Thistle we had one, maybe two, full-time players in Alan Rough and Alan Hansen. Most clubs at our level back then operated on a part-time basis and that is the way we are being drawn back towards.

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"The stigma attached to part-time players fails to take into account the wages many of them pick up, which aren't a kick in the backside off what we are paying full-time players just now."

Cowan, and the Thistle manager Ian McCall, may reasonably stand accused of many things but a lack of realism is not one of them. "Within the next two to three years, I think the majority of the First Division will be part-time," the chairman adds.

"That is with the exception of those who have directors or benefactors who have the funds to keep the clubs going. Look at Raith Rovers, who are deservedly sitting at the top of the league just now. I think they have only nine full-time players, with the rest part-time.

"In the past, they were a club who had financial worries but subsequently made a conscious decision not to overspend. That has obviously proved good enough for them."

McCall's occasionally harsh critique of the situation at Firhill rankles with some supporters. The manager bluntly admitted "We don't have any money" when pressed on transfer plans last month. Last weekend's league defeat at Cowdenbeath also upset fans, who understandably want to focus on a winning team rather than balance sheets.

"In fairness, Ian hasn't mumped and moaned," says Cowan. "What he has done is be honest about the situation, as we have all tried to be."

There is no doubt in the chairman's mind that the manager, a target for Dundee only last season, will not grow weary of cut-backs. "He is here for the long term. We have a good relationship, and what helps the club just now is that Ian is heavily involved in youth development," says Cowan. "He wants the club to bring its own players through."

Thistle's current problems are neither unique nor terribly surprising. As the team has toiled to return to the SPL, crowds have dropped in a story which will be familiar to supporters of Raith and Dunfermline Athletic.Thistle's gate receipts account for 32 per cent of their income. An average figure of 3,500 would help the club immensely; only around 2,000 are likely to attend today's Challenge Cup quarter-final with Ayr United, even at a perfectly reasonable gate price of 10 for adults.

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"It is true that the club is strapped for cash, but we are not alone," insists Cowan. "Thistle have never been awash with money but other things have impacted this time, such as the credit crunch's influence on our hospitality sales and simple attendance figures.

"This is what happens if you spend money to try and build a team but don't get success. In our first few years outside the Premier League, we overspent trying to get back there. Then, we had fresh investment or land sales which could offset that but now we basically have to live within our means."

The mooted chosen land of the SPL2, Cowan believes, is not something Thistle should cling to. "That might improve things a wee bit, but only that much," he says. "There might be greater (commercial] opportunity for us and some more money coming in there but it has only ever been talk so far. Until there are definite proposals put in front of us, as hasn't been the case before now, we can only really regard it as talk."

Some respite may be forthcoming within the net few weeks, with a planning application for development of one end of Firhill - for commercial and residential use - to go before the council. Thistle will glean a 50 per cent share of development proceeds.

Beyond that, Cowan and his fellow directors face their ongoing battle to balance expectation with reality.

"You carry on firstly because of a love of the club, but also because of a sense of responsibility," explains the Glasgow lawyer.

"Supporters sometimes tell us we should step aside; there isn't a queue of people looking to invest in football clubs.

"Until such a point as there is, we have to take that responsibility seriously."