Young Pars give club reasons for optimism

Dunfermline Athletic
Dunfermline Athletic

It’s fair to say 2013 wasn’t the best year in the history of Dunfermline Athletic Football Club.

A combination of financial meltdown, administration and redundancies led to a 15-point penalty and signing embargo which resulted in relegation for the second successive season after losing out in the play-offs.

But towards the end of the year, green shoots of recovery were beginning to emerge as fans rallied to raise funds to save their club which was then able to exit administration under the control of Pars United, a supporters’ umbrella group.

And the prospects for 2014 now look a hell of a lot brighter, both off the park and on it where the young players, propelled into the first team in times of adversity last season, have gelled into a talented team playing entertaining and attractive football.

There’s an air of (cautious) optimism around East End Park again,

Supporters have bought in to the idea that it’s now their club, many of them doing so literally, with over 800 pledging £20 per month through one of a number of funding initiatives aimed at ensuring the club.

That alone should net the club £200,000 over the year. Admittedly, not enough to cover the weekly wages of a Wayne Rooney or the ridiculously over-inflated sums paid to footballers at another League 1 club, but enough to cover the salaries of a few Dunfermline players.

And despite currently playing in the third tier of Scottish football, crowds have remained relatively healthy, usually around the 2500 mark, higher than most attendances in the Championship - and still the best supported team in Fife.

Of course, it’s always easier to support your team when they’re playing well and winning games, and that’s what the Pars are doing at the moment.

They have a tendency to give away a few goals, but, to their credit, the youngsters don’t let their heads go down and invariably manage to go on to outscore their opposition.

And it makes games more exciting too, with a number of victories clinched thanks to goals in the final few minutes - particularly against Stenhousemuir who have lost out three times against the Pars in the closing stages.

Despite their good form, though, the league title is already out of reach. Rangers have bought it.

The Pars’ only chance of finishing the season as League 1 Champions would be if the league leaders continued with the policy of burning their way through cash, leading to another financial collapse at Ibrox. But listening to the rhetoric of their latest chief executive, who has indicated a clear determination to rein in their spending, that isn’t going to happen.

So the Pars are playing for a place in the play-offs and, barring a major slump in form, that looks to be an extremely realistic target.

They’ve managed to cope at various stages with injuries to key players - centre back Callum Morris, midfielder Andy Geggan and captain Josh Falkingham - by promoting more youngsters into the team.

And even when one of the young lads has picked up a knock, such as 19-year-old full-back Ross Millen, manager Jim Jefferies has brought in someone even younger. Indeed, the form in the last few games of 17-year-old Ryan Williamson might mean Millen is forced to spend even longer on the sidelines.

They’re also fortunate to have players who lead by example. Geggan and Falkingham are driving forces in midfield and Ryan Wallace, so often asked to play in a wide role instead of in a central striking position, is so important to the team. Even when things aren’t quite coming off for him, he’s still there, looking for passes, tracking back and making challenges.

This trio, along with Morris and Stephen Husband, are considered experienced campaigners, expected to lead their younger team mates, yet with the exception of Geggan – who is 26 – the others are all just 23 years old. Hardly your seasoned veterans, but they’ve done a tremendous job.

The addition of striker 18-year-old Lawrence Shankland, who scored the winner on his debut against Stranraer after signing on loan from Aberdeen, will hopefully provide a regular supply of goals between now and the end of the season.

At the other end, extending Ryan Scully’s loan spell from Partick Thistle is another big boost. He’s an excellent young goalkeeper who has made some crucial saves at key moments, with an uncanny ability to come out on top in one-on-one situations.

Keeping the squad together might depend on whether the Pars are successful in the play-offs. Promotion would offer a step-up, a new challenge against better sides, and the prospect of derby fixtures against Raith Rovers and Falkirk, assuming neither of them manage to find their way into the Premiership.

Losing out in the play-offs would be a blow. It might signal the departure of some players looking to play at a higher level. There are a number who could do so, and if they got the chance to move to a club in a higher division, it would be hard to deny them that opportunity.

But that’s something to worry about in the future. For now, for the fans it’s all about enjoying watching this young team grow under the expert guidance of Jefferies and his coaching staff.

And being thankful that we’ve still got a club to support.