WE could all learn a thing or two from Itsy Bitsy Spider. In the children’s nursery rhyme, our eponymous hero ambitiously aims to climb to the top of the spout before his efforts are rendered redundant and he is returned to whence he came under the swell of heavy rainfall.

Does Itsy Bitsy give in? Does he heck. He bides his time, waits for the sun to come up and then redoubles his efforts, eventually conquering the now-dry drain, having learned from his previous failure.

Over in Glasgow’s south side there are other aspiring climbers that have their many eyes fixated upwards, attempting to scramble free of life in the lower leagues by dragging themselves up to the Premiership and all the promise promotion brings. And, so far at least, they are making a fine fist of it.

It was only in 2019 that Queen’s Park, one of the oldest clubs in world football, opted to go down the professional route and bring an end to the club’s 150-year-old amateur status. Yet these Spiders have enjoyed nothing but success on the park since, winning back-to-back promotions to rise from League Two to the Championship.

They are showing no signs of slowing down, either: now managed by former St Johnstone, Burnley and Bolton Wanderers manager Owen Coyle, they sit atop the second-tier standings and have racked up six consecutive league victories as opponents have been brushed aside with ease. While their promotion rivals around them falter and drop points hither and yon, Coyle’s side are picking up the pace.

Queen’s Park’s rapid ascension through the SPFL pyramid has caught many off-guard, and it is difficult to believe that even the most optimistic of supporters could have predicted that their club would find itself in such a lofty position in such a short space of time. A third consecutive promotion is a distinct possibility – which would be a tremendous achievement for everyone involved – but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a Cinderella story. In fact, it’s a story that many Scottish football fans will be grimly familiar with.

It is no secret that Queen’s Park have a few quid behind them for a club with a relatively small fanbase. Players like Simon Murray and Dom Thomas have been brought in at great expense to continue the Spiders’ upward trajectory. The appointment of backroom figures such as former Hibernian chief executive Leeann Dempster and Marijn Beuker, previously AZ’s sport development director, point to the Glasgow club’s long-term ambitions, as does the redevelopment of Lesser Hampden.

However, such actions have also drawn some rather unflattering comparisons with Gretna. The now-defunct Borders club stormed their way from the fourth tier to the first in three remarkable seasons in the mid-2000s but their rise was inherently unsustainable and once the team’s philanthropic owner Brooks Mileson pulled the plug when he fell into ill health, the Raydale Park side were ultimately wound up and ceased to exist. They didn’t even manage to conclude their one season in the big time.

Gretna didn’t leave behind much, other than a stark warning of the price of senseless ambition. They reached outwith their grasp, suffered the consequences and serve as perhaps the most extreme example of a club living beyond its means.

Sadly in Scotland, we have no shortage of case studies. No fewer than 11 SPFL clubs – Gretna, Clydebank, Rangers, Hearts, Dunfermline, Dundee (twice), Livingston (also twice), Queen’s Park, Morton, Airdrieonians and Motherwell – have entered administration since the turn of the century; almost all of them for daring to fly too close to the sun and living outwith their means.

Are Queen’s Park the new Gretna? Well, yes and no. There are a few uncanny resemblances between the Spiders’ rapid rise and the Anvils’ ultimately doomed one but there happen to be a few crucial distinctions, too.

While Gretna’s focus was purely on strengthening the playing squad to get up the leagues as quickly as possible, there appears to be a little more long-term thinking going on in the south side of Glasgow. Appointing Beuker to oversee Queen’s Park’s youth programme was a clever move that raised plenty of eyebrows, and the Dutchman is taking a big-picture approach to player development at Queen’s Park.

A detailed and sensible proposal has been published outlining Beuker’s vision, where academy players will supplement the starting XI, and it appears to tick a lot of the right boxes. Likewise, the decision to build Lesser Hampden to a capacity of less than 2000 seats suggests a club that harbors no illusions about the size of its fanbase, while still leaving room for further growth down the line.

The problem, though, is that Beuker’s ideas remain precisely that: ideas. A new development team was created in the summer to help bridge the gap between under-18s football and the senior side but few academy graduates have made it to the first team. Of the 23 players that make up the title contenders’ squad, only four come from the academy. Of that four, only one – midfielder Alex Bannon – has gained any sort of meaningful game-time this season.

Of course, such a strategy requires time to truly bear fruit but that is a resource that could soon be in short supply for Queen’s Park. If Coyle’s side can get their title tilt over the line and seal promotion to the Premiership, they will inevitably turn to the transfer market to aid their battle for survival the next season. Expenditure will rise and without the necessary infrastructure in place – whether that be a stadium that’s ready for Premiership-level crowds, a youth development programme to produce players or a fanbase large enough to fund the club’s operation – it can all spiral out of control at an alarming pace once a benefactor’s money (or interest) dries up.

Just ask Gretna. They too were an itsy-bitsy club that made it all the way to the top before crashing back down beneath a tsunami of financial troubles and ultimately disappearing down the drain. Their plight showed us all the importance of sustainability and the dangers of unchecked ambition; the Spiders would do well to heed those warnings or they risk suffering a similar fate.