, gretna s fleeting romance
ANTON HODGE recalls the time when a small Scottish club rampaged up the leagues – and then crumbled just as quickly
GRETNA. The name of the small Scottish town just over the border from England has for centuries been synonymous with romance. This is the direct result of its geography, the first place that eloping couples from England would race to, taking advantage of Scotland’s more liberal marriage laws.
A decade or so ago the name of the place conjured up a different type of romance – a tale linked to the town’s football club.
Formed in 1946, with their ground partially built by German and Italian prisoners of war, Gretna FC had spent most of their life playing non-league football – in England.
By the end of the last century, the club had begun applying to fill the occasional vacancy in the Scottish League – in those days there was no pyramid system – and success in that regard finally came in 2002.
The club did well in their first season “back home”, finishing sixth in the old Third Division. At that stage, a Sunderland-born rags-to-riches millionaire called Brooks Mileson began to take an interest and he initially helped the club with some sponsorship.
Mileson lived locally, a few miles south of the border, and had previously set his sights on buying Carlisle United. A determined philanthropist who gifted money to hundreds of charities and individuals, he seemed to sense some potential in the Scottish League’s newest team and started pumping his cash in to the club, effectively becoming their owner in return for paying off historic debts.
With Mileson’s money, Gretna were able to turn full-time (not that common in Scotland’s bottom tier) and encourage a better standard of player to pull on the club’s black and white shirt over the next couple of years.
The club started their third season (2004-05) with a 6-0 win over Albion Rovers and went straight to the top of the league. By early March, Gretna had already secured promotion, breaking a number of records on the journey, securing 98 points, scoring 130 league goals and with their part-time doctor and striker, Kenny Deuchar, equalling Jimmy Greaves’ longstanding achievement of six hat-tricks in a season.
The following year the team romped to the Second Division title and to the Scottish Cup final against Scottish Premier League runners-up Hearts – the first time a team from the third tier had done such a thing. That game at Hampden Park ended heartbreakingly in a penalty shoot-out defeat after the SPL side had failed to break the border minnows, but it did secure Gretna a place in the following
Going up: Gretna celebrate their dramatic promotion to the SPL