Livingston heading in right direction – chief

Gordon Ford is looking to further strengthen the Livingston board. Pic: Lisa Ferguson
Gordon Ford is looking to further strengthen the Livingston board. Pic: Lisa Ferguson
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Livingston’s majority shareholder Gordon Ford admits his time at the helm has been a real learning curve but insists the club are moving in the right direction.

The former deputy chief executive of West Lothian Council acquired a 40 per cent stake in June after controversial predecessor Neil Rankine severed his six-year tenure with the Almondvale outfit.

But, despite last season’s off-field turmoil which saw the club dragged through the courts, have a five-point deduction imposed for tax irregularities, and hit with two transfer embargoes, manager Mark Burchill somehow managed to steer his players to Championship safety.

The Lions also lifted their first piece of silverware in 11 years when they defeated Alloa 4-0 in the Petrofac Training Cup final in April.

Ford revealed in June that his main objective was to stabilise the club after the ongoing cash dispute with former chairman Gordon McDougall, who was ousted from his position in July after a six-year reign.

At the time, Ford publicly stated the club wasn’t in a position to repay McDougall a six-figure sum in director loans that had been agreed in 2013 and believed the football club would not survive if he were to successfully recover the monies due to him in full.

Although no amicable agreement has been reached between the parties, Ford, who resides in Chicago for six months a year, has given assurances that the club is responding positively.

“We have now got proper and effective governance at the club,” Ford said in an exclusive interview with the Evening News.

“We’re on top of the financial situation, as challenging as it is, it’s been a fast learning curve for everyone.

“There were some things we didn’t know about until we took over which were a bit of a shock. There were financial commitments that we weren’t fully aware of that I’m not going to go into, but we’re dealing with them and moving forward.

“Neil Rankine and Gordon McDougall are still our major creditors so that cannot be ignored. Neil was at the game on Saturday against Rangers and we’ve got nothing against those guys. Gordon, though, has disappeared off the scene.

“Before I took over there hadn’t been a board meeting for almost two years and there were no minutes of any decisions taken. You can’t run a business like that effectively but we’ve got a fantastic secretary now, Brian Ewing, who still works as a banker, so we’ve got a system in place.

“Even though I’m not here all the time, I get the minutes and see the action points and I make sure people are following these up. Everybody’s working really hard but it’s still a club that is run mainly by volunteers so that in itself provides a challenge.”

Ford continued: “We’ve got new people coming in in January. I can’t give a name just now but they are a pretty senior person from the Royal Bank of Scotland who will be coming to work with us.

“We’re still looking to strengthen the board and I’ve got people in mind but it’s just taking a bit longer than I’d hoped. But there will be changes at board level before the end of the season and that will help take us forward.”

Ford was complimentary towards manager Burchill and his players for their endeavours this season, Ford himself having taken in Livi’s recent 2-1 defeat by Hibs at Easter Road as well as last weekend’s impressive point picked up at home to league leaders Rangers. He also underlined the impact the Ibrox side’s participation in Scottish football’s second tier has had on the club.

“Having Rangers in our league has been a great financial benefit to us,” he said. “But the reality is that we’re likely to lose them, Hibs or both. It’s inevitable. That will make the Championship a more challenging league, which is a good thing because I hope we can be challenging for a play-off spot, not this year but hopefully next season.

“The performances have been really promising. We’ve been playing good football and have been unfortunate not to take anything from a lot of games this season.

“We had 8000 there last Saturday so I don’t know where this 6500 is being quoted. Rangers sold 6250 tickets so it was a big crowd but we’re not likely to see that again when those teams go. The atmosphere was incredible.

“Unfortunately, we’ll have no money again to strengthen the squad in January so we’ll be searching for the best local talent we can through the likes of the Junior leagues.”

Taking the visits of Hibs and Rangers out of the equation, Livi’s average home attendance this season sits at a fraction over 1000 paying supporters – a figure, Ford admits, is causing the board some concern. Asked if those numbers are sustainable for a full-time professional football club going forward, he refused to rule out the possibility of the club switching to part time, although he stated no conversations regarding this proposal had taken place.

“It is a major worry for myself if I’m being honest,” he said. “We have around 700 season-ticket holders and that seems to be our home support most weeks. But I think if we can start picking up results then hopefully we can get a few more hundred through the turnstiles.

“But we haven’t even discussed the possibility of part-time football and I can categorically state that. However, eventually you have to cut your cloth somewhere so we’ll have to see the position we’re in at the end of the season. You can never say never.”

One major source of revenue that is set to boost the club significantly is the installation of an artificial surface at the Tony Macaroni Arena, Ford hopeful work can start on the new pitch in May.

“The Almondvale Stadium Community Enterprise are negotiating with the council right now,” he said. “I would hope there would be something positive to announce soon. I think work would start in May but it’s certainly a fantastic development not only for the club but for the whole community.

“Can you imagine old guys like myself getting together to play an 11-a-side match at the stadium? It would be a great experience and a route that a lot of teams are now going down.”