Every soccer fan on earth dreams of one day striking it rich and buying a team. I myself would chase after Wisla Krakow, MSK Zilina, Zalgiris Vilnius, Leyton Orient, Auckland City, and a few others in my hunt…However, for most of us, it’s just a dream. For one Scottish man, it just became a reality. A 71-year-old named Colin Weir has just finalized paperwork to become the owner of his boyhood favorites, Patrick Thistle, a Glasgow based club which has spent recent years mired in the Scottish Championship and has battled debt issues earlier in the decade. Weir hit the Euromillions lottery in 2011 for well over GBP 100M, so he’s come into some serious capital. Weir’s plan includes a Supporters Trust ownership of the club, where he transfers shares to their management and Board Member Appointees.
Some fans of the club will surely be upset, given the other investment groups that were sniffing around the club, most notably Paul Conway’s New City Capital Investment group—Who had dreams of fighting Rangers and Celtic in the Scottish Premiership and making runs at the Europa League. Their current reality is anything but magical nights in the Europa League with visits from clubs like Arsenal, Braga, and Lazio. Thistle sits last in the Scottish Championship. They’re only two wins from being out of the relegation zone and in the pack, and it’s a long season, so there is time to make up that ground to stave the drop.
Developing sustainability is what seems to be the theme of breaking news stories out of Scotland related to this. The hope is that Weir will provide stability with his group, not necessarily gobs of wealth to be wasted every year. It is not so much about finding ways to outspend Hearts, Hibs, Kilmarnock and the other Scottish Prem sides to run into a buzzsaw at the top two, but more about finding the clubs footing the rest of this year, and setting themselves up for a more realistic future which is a long term success story. This year, the goal must simply be to stave off a disastrous relegation to Scottish League One—Promotion is a pipe dream. They’re 20+ points behind Dundee United, so those dreams have to be on hold. Speaking of DUFC, they feature a Yank by the name of Ian Harkes, who sees regular time after joining them from DC United. Harkes, you say? Yep. He’s got that bloodline. Ian is the son of US National Team legend and my fellow New Jersey native John Harkes.
Most Scottish fans and pundits would likely tell you that Thistle is the type of club which should find themselves in the Premiership on the regular, possibly in the bottom half of it, but in it nevertheless. The club is over 140 years old and in spite of their ups and downs recently, have maintained a solid attendance rate, even down in the second tier: In their first Prem year of the decade, they hit out at almost 5,000 per match, a respectable number for a smaller Scottish club… Now, by comparison, their city-dwelling partners Celtic and Rangers both sell out their 50,000 seat grounds every single match, and the Edinburgh clubs(Hearts and Hibernian) tend to be near 75% capacity on many nights in their 20,000+ seat grounds as well.
On the brighter side, Weir was batting about making a pledge to further commit to and develop the Thistle Academy, but he held back initially on his GBP 6M commitment because of ownership concerns…Well, now he’s got the biggest desk in the building, so Thistle fans should be excited by the prospect of it potentially moving ahead. PTFC’s trusts are seemingly interested in applying the principles set forth by a side just outside Glasgow, which operates in a similar manner, Motherwell.
Motherwell also has a Supporters Trust set up with members on the board and utilizes their academy system and ability to find diamonds in the rough on the scouting side to turn their profits from player sales to larger clubs, both in Scotland and abroad. The ability of Thistle to maximize their development efforts is an important piece of the puzzle to re-establishing the club in a more prominent position in Scottish football. Being in Glasgow, that means somehow, someway, fighting Rangers and Celtic for youth players—A massive shot in the arm to the academy would be a fine starting point, and for teenagers, the promise of regular first-team footy as opposed to standing on the sidelines at the big boys of Scottish footy could prove tempting…Aidan Fitzpatrick turned one good season with Thistle into a transfer to Norwich(He’s currently 18 years old and playing with their U23s), and more importantly, the club made ~ GBP 350,000.
Thistle has not gone beyond its means financially, and is in a rare, advantageous position amongst smaller time football clubs—They’re completely debt-free. This means, even at their meager attendances, which are some 30% lower than their Scottish Prem years and obviously at cheaper ticket prices since they’re a division down, they’re still financially solid. Weir also bought back all the land around the stadium and will return it to club ownership via the purchase. For the first time in a decade, Thistle owns its ground. They’re still a Glasgow club, a club with great history and now, a cashed-up fan for an owner. Does this spell success? Nothing is a guarantee, but Weir may give the club a chance at local stability.
We dream. Weir has made it a reality.