Dominic Keane did not know whether to laugh or cry. Tears flowed the moment Livingston clinched a place in the CIS Insurance Cup final on Tuesday night, but their owner's senses were confused.
Keane will be at Hampden Park on 14 May, but not in the directors' box. He will be buying his own ticket. The man who built Livingston up with six years of hard work, taking them from the Scottish Second Division into Europe, has been kicked out by the club's bankers.
Livingston went into administration yesterday, owing £3.5m. The players who defeated Dundee may not be in a job next week. Stuart Lovell, the captain, has said they will play at Hampden for nothing, but that is up to the accountant who now runs the show at the Almondvale Stadium.
Keane is angry at being forced out for a sum minimal compared to the debt being carried by other clubs in the Scottish Premier League. Indeed, it was ironic that the team who stood in the way of Livingston reaching the final was Dundee, who sought administration two months ago with debts of £20m. "There is a major disease in Scottish football called debt and it is the fault of the banks," Keane said. "They are the people who offered overdraft facilities. I am sick of banks and tired about talking of money. This game should be about football."
Livingston were the Scottish Premier League's model club. Young and vibrant, they were only created in 1995, assuming the identity of Meadowbank Thistle, who moved to the West Lothian town after being offered a new 10,000-seat arena at Almondvale with a youth academy and commercial base for business.
"I am proud if I have been over ambitious," Keane declared yesterday. "That reflects my passion for the game. The debt was only £3.5m. We did not pay excessive wages. However, if the principal creditor, the bank, does not support us any longer then change is inevitable."
A further irony is that the Bank of Scotland sponsor the league. They were also Keane's former employers. He was a top executive there before he moved into football a decade ago, as a director at Celtic, before investing his time, money and energy in Livingston as he built up a club that moved from Second Division obscurity to the Uefa Cup within the space of just four years.
The root of Livingston's problems, unlike those at Dundee, Motherwell and almost every English club in administration, is not excessive wages. It is an investment in a hotel and office complex at the stadium, which was supposed to ensure diversified income.
Livingston's involvement in the troubled Stadium Investment Group, in which the former Bank of Scotland managing director, Gavin Masterton, and John Yorkston, the chairman of Dunfermline Athletic, are the main shareholders, has prompted the rising debt. Livingston had a 75 per cent share in the Almondvale office venture and SIG took the remaining 25 per cent.
However, failure to rent enough office space has now impacted on the football team. Keane has shrewdly juggled the playing staff in recent seasons. No players have been on long-term contracts and the sale of David Fernandez to Celtic raised £1.2m.
"I think Livingston will survive," Keane said. "You only have to come here to realise what a special place this is. We are not a Celtic or Rangers, we are a different type of club and we have a big role to play in the community."
Lovell admits that a feeling of unease has replaced the euphoria in the Livingston dressing room. "We know we will see a cull of players like there was at Dundee and Motherwell," said the captain. "None of us are on huge money but the chances are that some will go. However, we decided to a man that we will play in the Cup final for nothing if we have to."Reuse content