Whilst Edinburgh recovers from the initial panic of having no football club in Scotland’s top flight, some people are rubbing their hands with glee just along the road.
Livingston stand to benefit more than any existing Championship side from the arrival of Hearts, Hibs and Rangers in their division.
Located 20 minutes from Edinburgh and 40 from Glasgow, the West Lothian club are well situated for travelling supporters of the ‘big three’. They also have an all-seater stadium which can accommodate more than 10,000 fans. Season 2014/15 will be something of a cash cow for many Championship teams and Livingston’s facilities mean they are primed to capitalise.
Their average home league attendance last season was 1157 – a drop of 11.5 per cent from the previous year. It is hoped locals are gripped by the most eagerly anticipated Scottish second tier in history and return in their numbers. Whatever happens, big crowds are expected at Almondvale – officially titled the Energy Assets Arena – given the fanbases which follow Hearts, Hibs and Rangers around.
“There’s no point kidding on about this,” says John McGlynn, the Livingston manager. “No-one of my age would ever have thought this would ever happen; that Rangers, Hearts and Hibs would all be in the second tier of Scottish football at the same time. It’s remarkable. The fact one of them will remain in this league for at least two seasons is another bonus for all the other clubs. It’s a one-off. We’ve really got to use this as much as we possibly can. In terms of location, we’re perfect.
“As soon as Rangers ended up in the bottom division [two years ago], it was forecast that they’d be in the Championship in a couple of years. The financial situation at Hearts put them into administration and, as a result, they find themselves in this league. Once they were hit with a 15-point penalty last year, you’re thinking it could be both Hearts and Rangers in this league. The bonus ball is that nobody would’ve expected Hibs to be relegated.
“We’re definitely looking for big crowds. The fact we have a 10,000-seater stadium means we can get plenty fans in. Hopefully, Rangers, Hearts and Hibs would carry a big travelling support and we certainly have a stadium which can accommodate that. Having these teams visit us will bring some great occasions and we’re looking forward to them.
“There’s a buzz amongst the players at playing these big teams and because they will be going away from home to stadiums that they might not have played at. It’s a great opportunity to go to Tynecastle, Easter Road and Ibrox and play there in front of big crowds.”
The increased revenue does not automatically mean a bigger budget for McGlynn, though.
“I think everyone believes the manager will have more money, however the budget will be similar to last year,” continues the former Hearts and Raith Rovers manager. Crowds will get bigger but the problems Livingston and other clubs have is the debt they’re carrying.
“We’ve really got to try and make this season pay financially to pay some debts off. We’re looking to be competitive and get the best squad together for the amount of money we have, no doubt about that. However, we certainly can’t go throwing silly contracts about because things are still very tight.”
Rangers’ demise was a familiar one to those in West Lothian after Livingston’s demotion to the old Third Division in 2009. The club was on the brink of insolvency at the time but recovered to win two successive league titles and restore themselves to the First Division, now called the Championship.
McGlynn believes they are now due some kind of recompense for continuing as a full-time club in a ground built for top-level football. “The criteria when Livingston were building this stadium was that it had to hold 10,000. Livingston were sent to the bottom division a few years ago and had an outlay for a stadium which was sitting here empty.
“They had to pay for its upkeep and that’s detrimental when you’ve got a big ground not getting filled but you still have running costs. Maybe this is a wee bit of payback for Livingston. They’ve been forking out while other clubs haven’t had to spend to the same degree on their grounds because they aren’t as big. This is maybe a chance to recoup some of the money they laid out.”
What the new season holds for the Lions is anyone’s guess. Their three most sellable assets – Stefan Scougall, Marc McNulty and Coll Donaldson – have been sold to Sheffield United [Scougall and McNulty] and Queens Park Rangers respectively since New Year. Senior players like Martin Scott and Andy Barrowman were released and McGlynn is presently trying to reinforce his squad.
He hopes to challenge for fourth place and a play-off spot, assuming the ‘big three’ do indeed finish as the top three. Stiff competition will also come from the likes of Falkirk and Queen of the South. “Most betting people would anticipate the three big clubs being in the top three places. We’ve got to try to break into that if at all possible,” says McGlynn.
“If not, fourth place is up for grabs for every other team in the league. Falkirk finished third last year so a lot of people would fancy them for fourth this time. Will Queen of the South be up there? I think it’s very much open for any team.
“I think there’s doubt in a lot of people’s minds about what will happen with Rangers. They won League One without losing a game but there are many more full-time clubs in the Championship. You would tend to think Rangers would feel more comfortable and could thrive with the atmosphere at places Tynecastle and Easter Road, rather than, with the greatest respect, some of the teams in the lower divisions.
“Who knows what will happen with Hibs? It’s probably back to the drawing board. If Hearts start the way they finished last season with the young lads, they will be a team to be reckoned with. Clubs like us need to be ready to exploit any chinks in their armours.”
Livingston are offering tickets at just £10 to help entice more home fans to Almondvale next season. Adult season tickets cost just £180 for 18 home games, with concession prices at £90 and kids’ prices at £54. “You won’t get a cheaper season ticket at this level than ours,” says McGlynn.
Anyone in the area swithering would be advised to take up the offer. Atmosphere, excitement and intensity are just about guaranteed at Almondvale next season.