Livingston chairman Gordon McDougall hopes to be in a position to offer players contracts within the next couple of weeks.
The Lions preserved their Championship status last Saturday despite a tumultuous season both on and off the park, ensuring their safety with a final-day win over Queen of the South that sent Cowdenbeath down and Alloa into the play-offs.
While the club celebrates that remarkable achievement, Livingston remain handicapped by a transfer embargo imposed by the SFA last month over club majority shareholder Neil Rankine’s dual interest in East Fife.
It wasn’t the first sanction placed on the club during the season as they were stripped of five points and fined £10,000 by the SPFL in November for undeclared bonus payments made to players in 2010/11.
And, although the Lions can look forward to another year in Scottish football’s second tier, McDougall today warned supporters that until Rankine relinquishes his shares in the Energy Assets Arena outfit, the club will remain unable to register or re-register players for next season.
“For obvious reasons, it’s got to be done,” McDougall said in an exclusive interview with the Evening News. “Neil Rankine has got to transfer his shares as we can’t plan for the future until that duty has been carried out. Only when that’s happened will it enable whoever is taking the club forward to begin the work that is required here. The way things stand, Rankine, the major shareholder, controls the affairs of the club. However, I am hopeful this will be done within the next month or so as Neil himself has said he wants to end his involvement with Livingston.”
With only three of the current squad contracted beyond the end of this month – goalkeeper Darren Jamieson, midfielder Scott Pittman and striker Jordan White – McDougall accepts the enormity of the task in rebuilding a team for next season. Manager Mark Burchill, who took over from the dismissed John McGlynn in December, is also yet to sit down and agree a new deal. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to say something within a few weeks that we’ve got the manager tied up, the transfer embargo has been lifted as the shares have been transferred and then the player recruitment can start,” said McDougall.
“When Mark came in, we moved forward as a football team. They were a group that bonded together over the last six weeks of the season so it is astonishing that we’ve survived. Mark’s earned the right to be here next season so we’re hopeful we can agree something with him. He’s done well so you can’t argue with that.”
Not only did last month’s Petrofac Training Cup final 4-0 victory over Alloa give the supporters a day to remember, it provided the impetus for the players to transform the club’s fortunes in a matter of weeks – picking up 13 points from their remaining six league fixtures.
“I thought it was going to be very difficult to stay in the league [prior to the cup win],” McDougall admitted. “But that game definitely had something and it was the gravity of that result, not a 1-0 or scraping through, we comfortably beat them and it just grew from there. It was only just the week before that we had drawn with Alloa 2-2 and needed a goal in the last minute to get the point. So the cup win was certainly the catalyst for the resurgence of the club, without a doubt.
“I enjoyed the day at McDiarmid Park tremendously because the snowball then started to roll and it got bigger and bigger. There was a wee hiccup with the Hibs defeat but that wasn’t too bad.
“The game at Central Park against Cowdenbeath was just huge. I thought we were in command and deserved to win 2-1. But, after 60 minutes and being 1-0 down, you’re saying to yourself ‘that’s it. This is our season’. That said, what a turnaround.”
Regardless of the five-point deduction, McDougall remains defiant the squad assembled over the course of last summer should not have been in such a precarious position heading into the final game of the season.
Furthermore, had Livi dropped out of the Championship last weekend, McDougall says the club could have been forced to go part-time.
He said: “I think we would’ve had to have gone part-time because financially it would have been extremely difficult to carry on where we’re at. Nine hundred fans is what we are getting as a base so we need more through the turnstiles because I don’t think it would have been sustainable.
“But I still think we had a team that were capable of challenging at the top end of the league before the season got under way and shouldn’t have been in this position. But we just didn’t get the results on the park amidst all the other stuff that was going on.”