, gretna s fleet­ing ro­mance

AN­TON HODGE re­calls the time when a small Scot­tish club ram­paged up the leagues – and then crum­bled just as quickly

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - LOOKING BACK -

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

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