Partick Thistle’s fan ownership journey has been a drawn-out affair, to say the least. Since Colin Weir’s purchase of a majority stake in the cinch Championship club in November 2019 and untimely death the following month, the intervening years have been full of twists and turns as the ownership saga has rumbled on in the background.

Protests, in-fighting, public squabbles, dramatic twists, conspiracy theories – the Jags’ transition to fan ownership has seen the lot. The mass resignation of the previous club board in December, played out against a backdrop of supporter unrest, marked yet another turning point in the transition to fan ownership, though, and it was arguably the most important one of all.

The PTFC Trust, the fans’ group that own the shares, and The Jags Foundation, a 1,300-strong supporters’ organisation, have been collaborating since the regime change at Firhill. Alongside other fans’ groups, the two bodies – that previously had a somewhat adversarial relationship – buried the hatchet in the name of cooperation, and substantial progress has been made as a result.

The finishing line is now in sight and come the end of it all, Partick Thistle will be a fan-owned club. It has taken years to get to this point, and there have been plenty of bumps in the road along the way, but the long-term security of the club will soon rest in the hands of those who will always have its best interests at heart: the supporters.

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Scottish football has no shortage of cautionary tales when it comes to dodgy owners playing fast and loose with cherished institutions. All manner of charlatans, rogues and grifters have polluted our game over the years – often to the extreme detriment of the clubs whose interests they supposedly represent – and fan ownership insulates against that threat. Thistle fans need only glance south for a timely reminder of that fact.

The Jags might well be on the brink of becoming an all-singing, all-dancing fan-owned football club but it could have very easily been an altogether different story. You see, months before Weir decided to purchase a stake in the club and gift it to supporters, there was another interested buyer weighing up a bid for Thistle: Chien Lee, the founder of private investment company NewCity Capital.

At the time, Lee part-owned a multitude of football clubs dotted around the continent, including Nice in France and Barnsley in England. Quite how little old Partick Thistle caught the American investor’s eye defies explanation. After all, Scottish football’s lower leagues aren’t exactly flush with cash and few owners ever see a return on their investment.

The Herald:

There is one rather sizable asset to Thistle’s name, however: the land at Firhill. The stadium itself wouldn’t be of particular consequence to the likes of Lee, but a sizeable plot of land in the west end of Glasgow? That could represent a multi-million pound profit sooner than you could say ‘student flat redevelopment’.

As a Thistle fan myself, I was always rather cynical about Lee’s mooted interest in buying the club. As far as I could see it, Thistle had one asset that would make a fine addition to his budding portfolio – the land – and not much else. Some were concerned the team would be run as a feeder club to Barnsley, where the chances of recouping your investment are far greater as one promotion to the Premier League will add a couple of zeroes on the end of your club’s valuation.

Ultimately, I suppose, I didn’t believe Lee had Thistle’s best interests at heart and was unconvinced he would be a suitable steward of the club. Weir presumably felt similarly when he was approached by a group of supporters who first floated the idea of the Euromillions winner buying the club and gifting it to fans – and time has proven him absolutely correct.

Thistle dodged a bullet with Lee’s attempted takeover and make no mistake about it. On Thursday morning, the English Football League released a list of charges levied against Barnsley and Lee and his business partner Paul Conway, who served as directors between 2017 and 2022. Almost all of them related to shady ownership practices at the South Yorkshire club and if proven, could result in a hefty points deduction in the upcoming season, as well as incurring financial penalties for the team’s mismanagement.

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It could so easily have been Thistle in another life. Lee’s proposed takeover and Weir’s subsequent purchase of the club was a sliding-doors moment in the Jags’ recent history, and the path the club ended up on could hardly be starker than the other that was available to it.

Barnsley’s woes offer a glimpse into the fate that could have so easily befallen Thistle. True, the Jags might not be the picture of perfect financial health at the moment but the current club board are placing the blame for those fiscal problems squarely at the door of their predecessors. Once fan ownership has been truly implemented, the hope is that the club will never find itself in such a situation again.

Barnsley aren’t the first club to fall foul of laissez-faire capitalists and they won’t be the last, either. Their plight should serve as a warning to other clubs who find themselves approached by prospective owners promising them the moon. Those who regard football clubs as playthings will not stride the corridors of power at Firhill ever again, and the unfortunate developments at Barnsley have shown precisely why they shouldn’t.