SPL may step in with a loan to help Gretna

March 8, 2008

GLASGOW, March 8 (Reuters) - The Scottish Premier League could offer Gretna a loan to stop the club going out of business in their first season in the top flight and sending Scottish soccer into chaos.

Gretna, who formerly played in senior non-league soccer in England and were admitted to Scottish senior football six years ago, are struggling with debts of more than 4 million pounds ($8 million) and could become the first senior Scottish side to fold since Third Lanark in 1967.

If that happened, the league table would have to be re-cast as their matches would be expunged from the records. Rangers' current four-point lead over Celtic in the title race would be cut to one point if results against the club were annulled.

Issues involving European places, relegation and promotion would also be affected. Gretna are bottom of the SPL with only four wins from their 28 matches.

However, SPL secretary Ian Blair was quoted by Scottish media on Saturday as saying the SPL would help Gretna survive until at least the end of the season.

'We very much expect Gretna to fulfil their fixtures and be there at the end of the season,' he said.

'What has happened over the last four years (when clubs have been in financial trouble) is clubs have been able to apply to the SPL for a loan during the season on the basis it is recovered from fees they'd get later on in the season.'

Gretna, who have risen through the Scottish league system over the last six years, reached the Scottish Cup final in 2006 before losing to Hearts on penalties.

They also qualified for the UEFA Cup, but have suffered serious financial problems since their owner Brooks Mileson suffered a serious illness and has been hospitalised.

The players were paid late several weeks ago as Mileson is the only signatory for salary cheques.

Gretna officials met insolvency experts Wilson Field Limited on Friday, newspapers reported on Saturday, but no decisions have been made yet.

David Elliot, of Wilson Field Ltd told the BBC: 'One concern is how the club is going to finance itself in the absence of Mr Mileson.

'I can only tell you the directors are having discussions. My role was to say how the administration process works. It is one of the options that is among the things they are considering.'

The club have been ground sharing this season with Motherwell to meet the SPL criteria of 6,000-seater stadiums, but crowds have been poor and just 507 fans turned up in midweek for a league defeat by Dundee United -- a record low for the league.

Gretna's chief executive Graeme Muir told the BBC website before Friday's meeting with Wilson Field Ltd: 'Does any club have a future when only 507 fans turn up?

'Dundee United did not bring many fans through, so I think many Scottish clubs are facing problems. We have been battling through the last three weeks and getting to the end of the season is paramount.

'Thankfully the payroll is up to date, but we have other creditors and we are trying to resolve that.'