AFTER a frantic week of bluff and counter-bluff, the Scottish Premier League was forced to come up with an 11th-hour rescue package to save Gretna from closure yesterday.
Following yet another threat from the administrator to pull the plug yesterday morning, the SPL board is understood to have guaranteed funding of 340,000 to see Gretna through to the end of the season. This afternoon's match against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Fir Park is now expected go ahead.
The additional money is thought to be an advance of the parachute payments which would be owed to the club after they are officially relegated to the First Division of the Scottish Football League. Under SPL rules, relegated clubs receive 250,000 for their first season in the First Division, and another 125,000 the following season if they fail to secure an immediate return to the top flight. In a last-gasp attempt to avoid the potential embarrassment of losing a member club before the end of the season, the SPL has agreed to guarantee Gretna most of that money over the next six weeks.
Television and sponsorship money which would be owed to the club at the end of the season was already being advanced, but Wilson Field, the Sheffield-based insolvency fund, said it was not enough to save the club from going out of business, insisting that over 50,000 a week is needed to allow the team to see out the remaining fixtures unless a buyer can be found.
Preliminary discussions between East of Scotland League club Spartans and Wilson Field about a possible takeover have not moved forward due to opposition from the SFL, and the same obstacle would face Highland League Huntly, who made a similar enquiry yesterday. An unknown American consortium is the only other interested party, but time is running out.
On another frantic day of activity, Wilson Field cried wolf once again yesterday, calling all remaining members of staff to a 10am meeting and issuing the SPL with another ultimatum. An hour later, the SPL faxed through its rescue plan.
A club source said: "It was touch and go for a while. They needed more money to keep the club going. Clearly the SPL heeded the warning and the game can go ahead."
Wilson Field representatives were in talks with caretaker manager Mick Wadsworth all morning, and, furious at the confusion, he left Raydale Park before it was confirmed that today's match would go ahead. Assistant coach, Andy Smith, said: "There was a wee bit of uncertainty, but I think it just needed the administrators and the SPL to get round the table. I don't know the full details, but I think there was a problem with the financial aspect of playing the game. We are hoping that things are sorted out which sees us (through] until the end of the season."
Gretna are due to host St Mirren on Wednesday in their last game before the league splits after 33 fixtures. They will have five more matches to fulfil after that.