When will Scottish football teams learn? If they sound too good to be true and looks like they’d sell their granny for a shipment of Guatemalan finger puppets then they probably are too good to be true and will soon be telling you that finger puppets are due for a retro style comeback.
Livingston seems to have fallen into the trap that so many others have before them. They have had warning ask Dundee and Hearts fans and they’ll tell you that just because your new owner is a business mogul from foreign shores doesn’t mean they are going to help plot your rise to the top. Dundee are only now recovering from the Marr and Di Stefano collaborative years and on the face of things Hearts have turned the corner under the astute management of Csaba Laszlo but with Vladimir Romanov in charge you just don’t know what’s coming next.
Angelo Massone arrived at Almondvale proclaiming that he and his specially selected consortium, which as always with these cases remain largely silent and anonymous, had one million pound to invest in Livingston to make them the third force in Scottish Football, the depressingly modest but realistic ambition of every Scottish club outside the Old Firm.
They followed a stereotypical format bringing in a manager that almost no one had heard of and a group of foreign journeymen that weren’t good enough for the bottom rungs of their own national leagues, hoping that one of them stood out from the crowd to get sold on for a huge profit. As the season continued they maintained the stereotypical format of sacking the manager who never knew anything about Scottish football in the first place and getting rid of the foreigners that were never any good, placing their faith in a Scottish manager and their youth policy.
The problems at Livingston though have gone from the concerning to the alarming in the space of a couple of months. The first signs of trouble emerged when members of the Livingston squad were not receiving their wages on time. Massone insisted this was due to the fact that money from abroad was being transferred to make the payments, an argument backed up by a similar situation that occurred at Hearts earlier in the season. The one difference though, the Hearts situation has turned into a blip while the Livingston one seems to have turned into a month on month battle for the players and staff at the Lothian club. On April 30th it was revealed that six Livingston players had still not received their wages for the preceding month despite intervention from the SFL and guarantees from Massone himself that late payments would not happen again.
Football players like anybody else during these times of financial tightening have the same bills to pay, and if they worked in any other industry and weren’t getting paid without explanation, then they would have every right to walk away. Football should not be above the law and a player should be able to seek gainful employment else where if their contract has been broken.
A lot has been made of the player’s situation and it is something that everyone should have sympathy with but that is not the only problem at Livingston. There is the sudden suspension of boss Paul Hegarty with two games left of the season, something that still has not been explained by Livingston’s owners. Has Hegarty questioned the board? Has he stood up for his players? Or has he simply questioned what is going on? Whatever he has said the players have backed him in another clear indication that the board and the rest of the club are on a different wavelength at present. You get the feeling that Davie Hay, the interim manager, more through moral obligation than choice, is not comfortable with the situation at a club he led to the League Cup just five years ago. He has stressed he would like to see the situation sorted as soon as possible for the fans if not for anybody else.
Finally and perhaps the most worrying aspect for Livingston supporters is the season long pursuit of the Massone consortium in trying to buying the home of the club. For a board that continually fails to pay their staff on time to insist they have funds in place to buy the stadium from West Lothian Council is intriguing to put it politely. It doesn’t feel right; the plan is to downsize the ground to a more acceptable capacity for the crowds the team attract while increasing the commerciality of the site. It sounds good, almost too good to be true, and we already know what that means.
A pessimist would fear that Massone and his mafia, and I do apologise for the pun, are about to start an asset stripping process that is not aimed at improving the club but instead ensuring the maximum profit from their investment before high tailing it back to Italy. It’s a very gloomy forecast but with the way things have been unravelling at Livingston would you be that surprised. I implore the Livingston board to reveal there exact plans for the club to not only ease the concerns of fans but also show the future they have in mind.
At present the future looks bleak; players are not being paid, while their best ones seem set to be sold to the highest bidder. A management team has been suspended for nearly a month without explanation and a ground that the local council seem willing to sell to the Livingston board. To top things off for Lions fans the SFL are threatening the club with relegation to the Third Division if Massone can not give guarantees with regards to future payment of players, and that could be the beginning of the end.
It is sad then that there will be fans that will smugly read this and say at least it’s not us, or they deserve it for buying there way to the top in such a short period of time. Livingston is not the first team to be seduced by a man with an exotic name and big ideas and they will not be the last. In a time where every club in Scotland is struggling it is hard to imagine Clyde, Stranraer or any other club turning down a large sum of money for the sacrifice of foreign ownership. Let’s hope then that if it happens again the lessons of the past will be learned and that Livingston doesn’t follow in the footsteps of Third Lanark and Gretna and become a footnote in Scottish football history.