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Slow-Mo to Links Park progress

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

What wasn’t in doubt was the clear evidence of a football club rejuvenated.

During January I attended a Scottish Cup tie at Links Park. In the immaculate main hospitality lounge after the match, despite the home team losing, there was much “Mo” merriment when it was announced that the crowd of 3,604 was nearly 1,000 more than that day’s cup attendance at Dens Park. There was also great pride in that fact that the Montrose section of the crowd was equivalent to 13% of the town’s population, underlining the club’s enduring importance to the people of the area.

Less than four years earlier Montrose FC had just managed to retain their SPFL place with a narrow aggregate play-off win over Highland League Brora Rangers. Much hard work behind the scenes ensued and is now being rewarded. An ex-director who was sitting next to me estimated that the Gable Endies’ income from the tie could be over £30k. Whether that figure is near the mark or not is almost incidental. What wasn’t in doubt was the clear evidence of a football club rejuvenated.

Montrose look to be in a comfortable position both on and off the park, a situation greatly helped by hosting six League One derbies this season against Arbroath, Brechin City and Forfar Athletic. These days, League One appears to be the natural home for these well-run, small-town Angus clubs, That’s not to say that runaway league champions Arbroath aren’t keen to compete in next season’s Championship but even a team representing one of Scotland’s most famous fishing ports has no intention of pushing the boat out.

Like Brechin City in last season’s Championship, the Red Lichties are determined to remain viable. They will not spend what they can’t afford, no matter the on-field results. It seems a simple formula to achieve financial stability. Accept where a club’s natural place is in the pecking order and resist supporters’ well-meaning but sometimes misplaced advocacy of attempting to compete with bigger clubs.

This “we know our place” approach is often denigrated by some fans as unambitious, but the number of phoenix clubs is England, and Gretna here at home, is a stark reminder of those club owners/directors who simply lost sight of reality.

There’s probably an unavoidable divergence between those who diligently run football clubs and those who faithfully follow their teams. Sometimes, however, there is a shared outlook. When Clyde made their move to Cumbernauld in February 1994, large posters on display throughout the new town carried the legend: Here the dream begins. It was inspiring stuff for all those involved, but few Bully Wee supporters would dispute that it didn’t take long for actuality to override aspiration.

For football romantics, reality can sometimes produce a thoroughly depressing outcome. Two seasons ago in the Dutch Eredivisie, the final league table almost exactly mirrored each club’s average attendance. There was one exception. Poorly supported Excelsior, one of three clubs based in Rotterdam, should have finished bottom if the attendance/final position was to be reflected 100% but they ended twelfth in an eighteen-club league. Excelsior’s pattern-breaking league placing was entirely due to one fact; they operate as a Feyenoord feeder club.

The idea of feeder clubs, like mergers, is an anathema to Scottish football fans. Independence is cherished, tradition and history are held dear. No argument with any of that but, as Montrose has recently shown, progression is most likely to be achieved by hard work and realistic objectives.

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