Thursday, October 14, 2010
Dundee in familiar territory
There's a dark cloud hanging heavily over Scottish football in the wake of the latest Dundee demise. The Dark Blues have slipped into administration for the second time in just seven years and there's a major question mark over their long term future.
Dundee's most recent troubles have set off alarm bells throughout Scottish football circles with clubs now more than ever realising the value of the pound.
All this comes a little more than a year after Calum Melville bankrolled the Dens Park outfit in an attempt to fire them to the Scottish Premier League. Despite Melville's money they failed to win promotion as they squandered a commanding lead at the top of the table to allow Inverness Caley Thistle to pip them to the title.
That immediately sparked speculation Aberdonian Melville, who made his money in the oil industry, would withdraw his financial support. Those fears were eventually confirmed at the end of September when the beneficiary, reputedly worth millions, attempted to resign from the board.
As the story continued to unravel it eventually emerged the stricken club owed £365,000 in unpaid taxes.
Melville announced, through his Public Relations representatives, he was willing to stump up another £200,000 to help bail out the Taysiders. However, the Dundee board felt this would be his last cash injection and would merely prolong their agony rather than addressing the real root of their problems.
That left them with only one option - administration.
The Dark Blues will rally, there's little doubt of that, but this time they don't have the collateral of 2003. They ran into problems last time when their high profile experiment of signing foreign talent on the cheap before moving the players on at a profit failed spectacularly.
In fact they left a staggering £23 million trail of debt and, as a result of their problems of seven years ago, Dundee now have no overdraft facility which they can fall back on. It seems they've failed to learn from their mistakes.
Splashing out on the likes of Gary Harkins and Leigh Griffiths, among other high earners, was always going to be a real gamble. It was a gamble Dundee, never mind a SPL club could afford, resulting in them running at a huge monthly loss.
This time the challenges are radically different as they sold Dens Park to local businessman John Bennett two years ago in a debt restructuring deal. Therefore the club has no assets which they can cash in beyond their playing staff and will for now have to survive on gate money alone.
While Gordon Chisholm's position as chairman isn't in question there's the very real prospect of a mass exodus of players with any market value. Given the global economic situation it's highly unlikely a white knight will ride into the City of Discovery vowing to save the struggling Dark Blues.
Other Scottish clubs are clearly taking note of the Dundee saga with most vowing they won't be the next to hit the wall. However, with teams north of the border feeling the pinch more than most the future is far from bright.
The memory of Gretna still lives long in the memory within the Scottish football hierarchy. They romantically climbed the leagues in a blaze of publicity as they were bankrolled by the late Brooks Mileson before eventually winding down when the creditors caught up with them.
But one director of football is determined to learn from Dundee's plight to ensure his club prospers. Aberdeen chief Willie Miller sympathises with his peers at Dens Park but remains intent on seeing the Pittodrie club move forward on an even fiscal keel.
"I really hope Dundee can recover from entering into administration for the second time in seven years," said Miller. "The last thing I want to see in Scottish football is any club being forced to go down that route.
"In my role at Aberdeen I know how difficult it is to put a team on to the pitch that satisfies the fans and is financially sensible. But I am duty bound to do just that because I don't want to see Aberdeen have the same problems that are affecting Dundee. That is why we've chosen to go with a smaller pool of first team players this season and give our youngsters a chance."
Perhaps with a huge change in focus and less emphasis placed on bringing in expensive foreign signings, Scotland's youngsters can flourish quicker. There's definitely been a sudden significant policy change across the board of Scottish football as clubs are now looking towards their youth policy far earlier than they once did.
Aberdeen is a case in point with the likes of teen stars Fraser Fyvie and Peter Pawlett now recognised first team players.
If Dundee are to battle back from the brink for a second time then they'll be forced to cut costs dramatically and place their faith in youth to make sure the sun shines on Dens Park again.