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July 7, 2010

Still the people’s game

Once the people’s game, football at the top end has become disconnected from reality. Some footballers earn more in a day than many people in this country earn in a year. But at a local level, the game’s appeal is undiminished along with its enduring ability to unite people around a common purpose. Last week the fans of Stirling Albion achieved a long held ambition – and a first for Scotland.


ByAllan Mackie, The Scotsman

FIRST Division side Stirling Albion today became the first community-owned football club in the country as a buyout by its supporters trust was announced.
Departing owner Peter McKenzie (pictured) has agreed to sell up for a fee of £300,000 after 26 years as chairman. He will also write off a £1.2 million loan which has accrued over the years.

The trust has been campaigning for the past 14 months for the takeover and picked up celebrity support from tennis ace Andy Murray, who hails from nearby Dunblane, as well as football star Cristiano Ronaldo and chef Nick Nairn.

Buy Stirling Albion campaign spokesman Paul Goodwin said: “This acquisition has the potential to be a landmark moment for the future of Scottish football as it marks the first senior Scottish football club to come under the direct control of its fans’ supporters trust.

“Everyone knows that there are severe pressures on football at all levels just now and we are under no illusion, and no-one else connected with the club should be either, that there is a very challenging future ahead.”

He said Mr McKenzie had placed the “wellbeing of the club”, which won last year’s Second Division championship, at the centre of negotiations and vowed to continue his legacy.

“I had a few offers on the table but it was always my wish that the club remain within the local community,” Mr McKenzie said today.

“The trust members have been very professional in their approach and have always given me the greatest of respect for which I am most grateful.”

An agreement in principal has been reached today that sees the trust taking day-to-day control of the club with immediate effect while both parties’ legal advisers complete the formal paperwork on the deal.

Since the trust launched its Buy Stirling Albion campaign in May 2009 it has registered more than 2,000 new members.

A management group has been put in place to steer the club through the transition period, but a set up will be established similar to the model at Spanish giants Barcelona where members of the trust have a vote on the management team – although not the coaching staff.

The new owners have already backed current team manager John O’Neill, who took over after Allan Moore quit at the end of last season.

But the new regime wants to develop the club’s “role and presence” in the wider Stirling community and undertake some innovative commercial activity during this season’s First Division campaign.