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Wealthy Jaggies inject £1m to cut Partick Thistle debt

MORE than a decade ago Partick Thistle’s loyal army of fans dug deep and saved Glasgow’s third club from total collapse.

Now the First Division side appears set to survive yet another battle after some of its wealthiest supporters came up with £1m to bring the club back from further despair.

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A historic deal, which could be struck almost 100 years to the day that Partick Thistle played its first game at Maryhill, is the latest instalment in the club’s proud but turbulent history.

A new property company founded by the investors is poised to buy a 50% share in the original main stand and the land where the old south terrace stood.

New housing and shops will now overlook the pitch at Firhill as the capacity is reduced from just over 10,000 to around 6000.

While the development may be a sad one for some of the Firhill loyal, it is simple realism to vice-chairman Tom Hughes, a Partick Thistle fan since boyhood who in later life as a chartered accountant, helped save the club in the late 1990s.

Mr Hughes, who himself has contributed to the £1m investment fund, said yesterday: “We are not Celtic and we are not Rangers and we have to change with the times. The fact of the matter is that our support is now 3000 to 4000. The idea is to increase that but the structure of Scottish football doesn’t make that easy. You have to temper ambition with realism.

“We are in a business where the prerequisites make it difficult to function. We play in the winter, the pitch is used 20 weeks a year and we have evening games that need expensive floodlighting. Now have to try and adapt.

“This is a huge step for the club but all these changes will provide full-time football at Firhill for the forseeable future. The changes will take away our debt threat and lead us to break even.”

The £1m investment will cut the club’s £1.6m debt in half and reduce annual repayments and interest payments by 50%. There will be an exit premium of 5% for investors.

There are plans under discussion to link the club into a wider regeneration of land that surrounds a nearby artery of the Forth and Clyde Canal, where a “community sports hub” made up of several football pitches could be built.

This would boost existing community links, promoted by schemes such as free entry for under 16s, and further forge the identity of Partick Thistle for the emerging generations.

One of the main investors in the buyout in Alan Lobban, a retired property developer, originally from Inverurie, who started to follow Partick Thistle around 30 years ago when he moved south. He described his £250,000 investment in the club as “a nice retirement project”.

Mr Lobban said: “I can’t say exactly why I started to follow Partick Thistle but it’s probably something to do with supporting the underdogs. I could see that the club needed investment. It is a good team that we have got and there are a lot of genuine people at Firhill who have the club at heart. It like to think I am amongst them.”

Board members David Beattie and Billy Allan will also contribute £250,000 each with Glasgow businessman Gavin Stewart, a life long fan, putting up a further £125,000. Further contributions have been made in £25,000 packages.

THIS IS GOOD NEWS FOR THE MARYHILL MASOCHISTS

ANNE JOHNSTONE

Two years ago, a rather fanciful piece of creative writing from think-tank Demos suggested as part of its vision for Glasgow in 2020 that Partick Thistle would be the most successful football team in the city.

For 20/20 vision, read rose-tinted spectacles, if you are unfortunate enough to be a Thistle fan.

Unfortunate because in recent seasons, it’s been less a question of “Firhill for thrills” than Firhill for bills. Unpaid bills.

Maryhill Magyars may have a nice alliterative ring, but Maryhill Masochists has often looked closer to the mark.

Marching with the Red and Yellow Army has never been an easy option in a city so dominated by the twin behemoths of Rangers and Celtic. Over the years, it has required more than a robust sense of humour to inhabit the Jackie Husband stand on a Saturday afternoon.

In 1998, the floodlights nearly went out for good and without the benevolence and generosity of the fans who got behind the Save the Jags campaign, the club would have been relegated to footballing history there and then.

Today, as in 1998 and despite a meagre operating budget, Thistle has debts of more than £1.5m.

It’s a long story about stadium requirements, promotions, demotions and problems with planning applications.

Suffice to say, this situation is not entirely of its own making and other clubs find themselves in similar circumstances.

Step forward Propco, an independent property company backed by two lifelong Jaggies, which will take over the main stand and undeveloped south end, effectively halving Partick Thistle’s debts.

Like last season’s decision to admit under-16s free, this is surely the way forward for Scottish football: clubs essentially owned by their own stakeholders and run for the benefit of the fans and the local community.

Perhaps that Demos stuff wasn’t so daft after all.

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