For lifelong football fans, the vision of their club ground padlocked and silent, awaiting sale to a developer, is devastating.
It is less like a company going bankrupt than the death of a close relative. That is the prospect facing Heart of Midlothian, Edinburgh's oldest football club.
The fans of this venerable institution deserve sympathy. They bear none of the blame for the chronic mismanagement that has brought this crisis to Tynecastle. Much of the £450,000 tax bill that could sink Hearts is for VAT, tax the fans have paid on their tickets, their Bovril and their football strips. Now they are in effect being asked to pay it again to keep their club afloat.
Loading article content
Rangers FC, another great footballing institution, only narrowly escaped extinction after decades of profligacy and now faces a painful climb back to the top flight from the Third Division. For too long clubs have been spending money they do not have, while attendances dip and television money evaporates. Having to live cheek by jowl with the richest league in the world does not help. New research suggests an increasing number of Scottish clubs are in financial distress, at the very time of year when their cash flow should be healthy.
Slowly and painfully clubs must learn to cut their cloth more sparingly. Yesterday Rangers Supporters Trust launched a community share scheme enabling fans to invest from £125 upwards in their club. This is surely the way forward. Players, managers, sponsors and owners come and go in the fickle world of football. Only the fans are constant and they deserve more say in the running of their clubs, even if the price is a downsizing of their dreams.
For too long football clubs have lived in an unreal world. They may be fields of dreams but they need to pay their taxes, just like the rest of us. So prudence is the new watchword.
It does not mean the death of the romance of football. Far from it. On Wednesday Celtic's triumph over Barcelona at Parkhead was all the sweeter because the winning goal was scored by an 18-year old bought for £50,000 from Airdrie United. Celtic learned to live within their means the hard way. When Fergus McCann determined to put the club on a sustainable footing, he took pelters from many fans. Today the club's debts are manageable, especially with the real prospect of European football beyond Christmas.
Football is more than just a business. Scotland is unimaginable without the beautiful game, especially in these hard times when once a week for 90 minutes the fans can leave their worries on the other side of the turnstiles and become threads in a carpet of sound. So today let's all shout: "C'mon the Jambos!"