It was an underwhelming title win. Less than 400 fans travelled the forty-or-so minutes to see it confirmed at Stenhousemuir, around a thousand more saw the trophy lifted at Almondvale. Underwhelming not because Livingston weren’t the best side in the Second Division this season, but because of its sheer inevitability. Favourites from the start, closest challengers Ayr United had the opportunity at the start of February to make it interesting and close to gap to one point with a game in hand – but a 3-0 win for the Lions at Somerset Park, on the back of a 2-0 victory versus Brechin City the previous week, started the procession as full-time Livi continued a run of 14 games between mid-January and the end of March where they dropped just two points.
While Livingston powered to the title, the cup exploits and weather-enforced schedule imposed on Ayr and Brechin took its toll. The Honest Men lost six of their seven fixtures re-arranged for midweek, the win ironically coming against a Brechin side who almost contrived to throw away even a play-off spot as memories of their thrilling quarter-final tie at Glebe Park versus St. Johnstone faded fast.
Livingston’s response to their title? Their consecutive promotions were the ‘fault’ of the short-sighted SFL Chairmen that condemned them to the bottom tier of Scottish football in 2009, and that clubs like Ayr had now ‘paid’ for their decision. But who was paying for Livingston’s rapid rise through the lower reaches of Scottish football? At the time when Stirling Albion have announced Jocky Scott’s budget in the Second Division will be £120,000, Livingston Chief Executive Ged Nixon admitted Livi’s season in the Third Division cost them £1.2 million.
Only now as preparations begin for life in the First Division do Livingston, according to Nixon, have the opportunity to start making steps toward living within their financial means, a clear admission that maintaining a full time squad in the Third and Second Division was never sustainable. Livingston have in effect responded to their punishment for going into administration – for a second time – by continuing the practices that got them into trouble in the first (and second) place.
Livingston’s justification for this approach again points the finger at the SFL. Their side of the story is that in August 2009 the League asked the new Board at Almondvale to honour all the playing contracts at the club – or they would have to resign their position in the league. Livingston agreed on the understanding they would be kicking-off in the First Division that weekend. Then they were demoted to the Third Division.
So while administration and relegation, on the face of it, provided Livingston with the perfect opportunity to begin the process of balancing the books, they in fact couldn’t. They had commitments. The SFL, the clubs they would steamroller on during their two year ‘delay’ in the Third and Second Divisions, had forced them into it. What this doesn’t explain is the post-administration and demotion recruitment of Tony Bullock, David Cowan, Robbie Winters, Kenny Deuchar and Iain Russell. All players who would walk into any lower-league side able to offer full time football and a decent wage.
While the terms of the investment made by their new Board of Directors to get Livingston (back) to where they are is unclear, the gamble – be it necessitated by the SFL or otherwise – has paid off. Livingston, according to Nixon, will be one of the most financially stable clubs in the First Division and alongside Queen of the South, Dundee and Falkirk he may well be right. But there will remain a doubt – especially amongst those supporters of teams whose clubs, rather than Livingston, have paid for their previous misdemeanours – whether Livingston can compete in the First Division while balancing the books, something which may be a rarity in Scottish football but Livingston have specialised in taking to the extreme. The evidence of their promotion back to the First Division, and the signings that have helped them get there, would suggest not.