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Livingston refuse to play

Scottish season in turmoil as debt-ridden club fight demotion by snubbing fixture

The start of the Scottish Football League was thrown into chaos last night after Livingston refused to play today's Third Division fixture against East Stirlingshire. The SFL relegated the debt-ridden club from the First Division on Wednesday for breaching the league's insolvency rules.

Livingston have now decided to appeal that sanction and insist they will not play a Third Division fixture until their case is heard. The appeal was lodged by interim manager Donald McGruther, who has been running Livi for the past fortnight.

McGruther, of administrator Mazars, was appointed by a court in Edinburgh after West Lothian Council took legal action to reclaim a £330,000 debt. He has been frantically attempting to negotiate the sale of the club to a consortium led by former Cowdenbeath owner Gordon McDougall, ex-Dumbarton chairman Neil Rankine and ex-Livi director Ged Nixon.

In a statement on Livingston's website, McDougall said: "We, the consortium, understand that the appeal submitted from the interim manager, Donald McGruther, has now been received and acknowledged by the Scottish Football League.

"Accordingly, Livingston Football Club remains a First Division football club at this stage and therefore is unwilling to fulfil a fixture in the Third Division. Before the appeal was lodged, Livingston Football Club informed SFL chief executive David Longmuir that they were able to fulfil the First Division fixture at Ross County on Saturday 8 August."

A separate statement from the consortium added: "From the consortium's perspective, we regret the need to take this step and the implications it could have on football people throughout Scotland, but we feel strongly that this action is entirely justified.

"Additionally, the consortium are delighted to announce that we have made substantial progress on finalising the purchase of the club and will be working over the weekend and hope to be in a position in the next few days to conclude the purchase."

Meanwhile, Heart of Midlothian appear to have landed the most difficult draw of British teams in the Europa League qualifying round with a tie against Dinamo Zagreb. The Croatians were eliminated from the Champions League after a 3-2 aggregate defeat to Salzburg in the third qualifying round.

The Hearts manager Csaba Laszlo, however, is remaining positive about his team's chances. "They are a very famous club but, with the right preparation, it is a game I believe we can win," he said. "It's possible to win, it's possible. It's better to have this than to have Everton or Werder Bremen. Dinamo Zagreb are the champions of their country and they've come from the Champions League.

"It's a big club, it's a huge club, one of the biggest clubs in Croatia. But I think if we prepare well and concentrate on our job, we have a good chance to qualify."