The last year has been one to forget for East Kilbride Thistle.
A couple of weeks after a fire ravaged the Thistle Social Club in early May causing an estimated £100,000 worth of damage, the Showpark side saw Jimmy Kerr depart as boss, along with his assistant Tony Gallagher, after the Jags were relegated to the Central District First Division.
And just when the club thought things couldn’t get much worse, in September, following the appointment of a new boss in Brian McMullan, vandals attacking the burnt-out Social Club led to astronomical repair costs for the building — running into hundreds and thousands of pounds — and many wondered at that point if East Kilbride Thistle would be able to continue.
The then chairman John Drummond had taken ill during this period and eventually stood down, leaving the club with rent arrears of around £7000 and other unpaid bills relating to the social club, including debts with brewers Heineken and an energy company.
In the aftermath of these revelations, former players and staff, including ex-Jags captain and 10-year servant Ryan Kelly, came forward to say they were owed hundreds of pounds in unpaid wages.
To say the Showpark was in shambles during this time would be an understatement and in the intervening months, Thistle’s future doesn’t appear to be much clearer.
A temporary six-man committee have put their hearts and souls into trying to save the club but both on and off the pitch, things are far from ideal.
Then boss Brian McMullen and his No2 Mark Wilson parted ways after a rift in November, although Wilson still works in the background at the Showpark.
And just this week the club have appointed two new coaches in Paul McAneny and Robert McKenna to assist struggling manager McMullen.
Players and coaching staff that came in at the start of the season quickly left and with Thistle’s league results standing at an embarrassing 11 defeats from 11 games, the Jags are in dire straits and staring at consecutive relegations.
And with Thistle’s home game against Larkhall last week — which ended in an 8-0 thrashing — attracting a meagre 12 Jags supporters, we ask: Has East Kilbride given up on Thistle?
In a year when the Jags will celebrate the 30th anniversary of their famous Junior Cup triumph over Bo’ness at Ibrox, the club couldn’t be any further detached from their past glories of the 1980s.
As it stands, the club have shown no indication as to how they plan to get out of their current predicament and, on the field, the team — who are now made up wholly of amateur players — show no signs of plugging their leaky defence and sit rock bottom of the table with relegation all but a certainty.
The Jags have conceded 68 goals in 18 competitive games this season. Twice they’ve shipped eight goals in one game and the goal concession average is a frightening 3.77 goals per game. They have scored 13, a goal average of 0.76 per game, with only five coming in league matches.
Thistle’s acting chairman Jimmy Stewart is well aware of the task facing the current committee as they bid to haul East Kilbride’s only junior team out of the doldrums.
But ask him if he believes the town has cast the club aside and he will tell you that apathy is nothing new at the Showpark — and it’s not stopped Thistle yet.
Jimmy said: “There has been this stigma attached to East Kilbride Thistle for years and I think it’s ingrained in a lot of people.
“It’s not a new thing here (apathy) and when I was first involved with the club a few years ago, there wasn’t a huge difference.
“A lot of damage has been done over the past year, though, because of the people who used to run the club and there’s no denying we are in a bad place at the moment, but we are still here and we are in a much healthier place than we were a few months ago.
“When I first came in, I’ll be honest, I feared the worst and I wouldn’t have helped out under the previous personnel. But the guys on the temporary committee and others behind the scenes have come in and are fully committed to steering this club in the right direction. They are paying money out of their own pocket to keep us going, so I don’t think everyone has given up on East Kilbride Thistle.
“If we get through this season, which I’m confident we will, this will be a bigger season than when we won the Junior Cup.
“The problem we have at the moment is people think we are damaged goods, but we are working to change that over the coming months and there’s developments in the background that we look forward to revealing.
“The door is always open for the people of East Kilbride to come and help us and we would be happy to receive their assistance.”
And with Thistle sitting bottom of the league, Jimmy admits the football is not what the club would like it to be.
He added: “The football we are playing isn’t great – that’s fair to say – but we have to work with what we’ve got at the moment.
“We don’t want to be relegated, but it won’t be the end of the world if we down again.
“Our priority right now is fixing things off the park and stabilising the club, then we can concentrate on playing football.”
However, speak to the few die-hard supporters and they believe the on-field problems have to do with the manager and are asking for transparency from the committee.
EK Thistle Supporters’ Club member Ian Ashwood, who has been following the Jags for the past 15 years, believes the apathy towards Thistle will never lift until there are wholesale changes at the club.
Ian believes manager Brian McMullan needs to go and the backroom staff must change with the current committee yet to be ratified at an emergency general meeting which, he says, has been on hold since August. The 55-year-old, from Stewartfield, told the News: “The guys who came in after Jimmy (Kerr) and Tony (Gallagher) left picked up a poisoned chalice and the fans were willing to give them a chance — longer than any of the previous managers.
“But the fact is the performances haven’t been good enough and, in any other sphere of football, a team who hasn’t won a league game all season would have had their manager out the door a long time ago.
“A Junior club needs a Junior manager and, with all respect to Brian McMullan, he’s not at that level. We need someone who can network in that area and bring in a spine of three or four good Junior players and build a team around them.
“Last Saturday against Larkhall was embarrassing and it was 8-0 going on 16-0. There’s no cohesion in the team and, as far as I can see, there’s no guidance coming from the dugout and that’s not going to help the players.
“But the big thing for the fans is that the committee put some kind of plan in place and tell us what they intend to do. I believe this is the opinion shared by the hardcore fans, of which there are a dozen or so, but after their being plans for an EGM in August everything has gone quiet.
“The committee has to be ratified – or indeed changed – at the EGM and I’m strongly in favour of it changing because they haven’t taken the club forward.”
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