BEING the custodian of a historic, high-profile and well-supported football club can be a challenging endeavour, a thankless task even, at times.

Celtic are on the verge of completing a cinch Premiership and Scottish Gas Scottish Cup double – but the Parkhead hierarchy has still been subjected to abuse from angry fans who are unhappy with how they are running things on more than one occasion in the past nine months.

Their counterparts over at relegation-threatened St Johnstone have also been targeted by their own disgruntled followers at times during what has been something of an annus horribilis for them.

Will Adam Webb - who is set, subject to EFL and SFA clearance, to buy a 75 per cent shareholding in the Perth outfit after reaching an agreement with long-standing owner Geoff Brown – be able to placate the hordes, deliver success and avoid the flak in the years ahead?

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Brown, the local builder who bought his childhood heroes back in 1986 and has been directly responsible for much of the progress which has been made on and off the field in the decades since, will leave some pretty big boots for Webb to fill when he sells up.

However, the upward trajectory which English League One side Cambridge United have been on since the American lawyer purchased a 10 per cent stake back in 2021 would suggest that St Johnstone are in safe hands and can look to the future with cautious optimism.

Paul Barry, the US-based businessman who made his fortune in the travel industry and who bought the club he grew up supporting as boy back in 2019, has very much driven the myriad improvements which have been made at the Abbey Stadium in the past five years.

Still, Barry has publicly stated that Webb, the Harvard-educated managing partner in litigation firm Webb, Klase and Lemond LLC in Atlanta, has provided much-needed financial stability with his annual cash injections.

The father-of-four from Columbus, Georgia, takes a keen interest in how “The U's” are faring from the other side of the Atlantic and has witnessed how they have flourished by putting the local community and supporters to the forefront of their sustainable business strategy.

Liam Apicella, the sports editor of The Cambridge Independent, covers the League One team and has seen first hand how the fortunes of a 112-year-old institution which was in serious danger of going out of business before Barry took over have been transformed.  

“Since he has come on board, there has been significant investment,” he said. “They have been able to buy their stadium back and build a new training ground. The squad budget has also increased. It isn’t earth-shattering compared to come League One clubs, but for Cambridge it has been a big deal.

The Herald: “Not that long ago, they were, rumour had it, 24 hours away from going out of existence. They went into administration and fell into the Conference. They had to sell absolutely everything, including the ground.

“Buying the Abbey back in 2022 was huge for them. They want to redevelop it. It has a capacity of around 8,000 just now and they want to increase that to a 12,000 or 13,000 seater. They also opened a £3.5m state-of-the-art training ground at Clare College.

“Adam isn’t involved on a day-to-day basis and isn’t seen around a great deal. But since he has come on board things have improved a great deal. I am sure that his legal background and expertise has been useful given some of the deals they have struck recently. They have big plans.”

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Apicella continued: “The fans are hugely supportive of this regime. They are one of the few clubs whose supporters are unanimously behind their owners and what they are trying to do. The number of fans down here whose fans have major gripes with their owners is incredible. But that isn’t the case at Cambridge. Everything is positive.  

“They can’t go splashing massive sums on the club because they haven’t got it. But that is accepted in the stands. Fans are happy they are doing things the right way, in a sustainable manner. Paul isn’t interested in making a quick buck. He genuinely has the club’s best interests at heart.

“The only issue I can think of is that the club wants to change the badge and some fans are opposed to that. They are trying to modernise things. I think they have been quite surprised by the backlash to that. But it is still at the consultancy stage. Otherwise, it is a very harmonious club.”

St Johnstone, who take on Aberdeen at Pittodrie tomorrow, are currently just a point ahead of second bottom Ross County in the cinch Premiership table with four games remaining and are may find themselves dragged into the end-of-season play-off final.

Can the McDiarmid Park club’s supporters expect better in the seasons ahead if the change of ownership is given the green light by the game’s governing bodies north and south of the border and Webb assumes control?

The Herald: His association with Cambridge has certainly enabled the English club to consolidate their position in League One and hopes are high they can improve on their showing next term given the strides forward they have made in so many areas. 

“Staying in League One this season was regarded as a massive success,” said Apicella. “Cambridge’s budget is probably the equivalent to a mid-table League Two club. They have been overachieving for three or four years now. Next season will be their fourth in the third tier – the longest they have ever spent at that level. 

“After Mark Bonner, who did a fantastic job, was manager they managed to get in Neil Harris and Garry Monk, two managers who have managed in the Premier League and the Championship.

“I think that shows Cambridge is becoming a more attractive job. The hope is that next season they can be a bit more comfortable with Garry at the helm and not be looking over their shoulder so much.”

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Hibernian were given permission by the SFA to proceed with an investment from the consortium which owns Bournemouth back in January and they have since taken Emiliano Marcondes on loan from the Premier League outfit. Could St Johnstone and Cambridge have a similar kind of arrangement moving forward?

“I have seen fans down here talking about trying to set up a Dimitar Mitov Derby,” said Apicella. “He was here for six years and the Cambridge fans still love him. Maybe we could set up a friendly in the summer.  That seems to be the way football is going, clubs forming links with other clubs. So, potentially that could happen.”