PERHAPS fittingly, considering the stock car racing which takes place on Saturday evenings around their characterful Central Park ground, Cowdenbeath FC is starting to look awfully like a car crash. Formed in 1881, and part of the Scottish leagues since 1905, that proud status has never been under greater threat.
A team which not so long ago was spending four seasons out of five between 2010 and 2015 in the Championship - giving Rangers, Hearts and Hibs a fright or two with a fearsome frontline of Greg Stewart and Kane Hemmings - now finds itself seven points adrift at the bottom of the Scottish professional league system, staring a third successive relegation hard in the face. Those halcyon days were the club's best performance since the second world war but tonight they face the archetypal six-pointer against relegation rivals Clyde and never has there been a better time for the self-styled Blue Brazil - now under the new management of Gary Locke and Billy Brown - to rediscover that samba swagger.
There is still time for this grand old name of the Scottish game - the likes of Mixu Paatelainen, Craig Levein, Danny Lennon and Jimmy Nicholl have all spent time in the managerial hot-seat this millennium - to save themselves. Even if their cause in the league becomes hopeless, a second chance in the play-off awaits, against either a Highland League luminary like Brora Rangers, Buckie Thistle or Cove Rangers or perhaps runaway Lowland League leaders East Kilbride. But should the worst come to the worst, a fate which befell East Stirlingshire last season, there are no guarantees of coming back any time soon.
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The story of how Cowdenbeath ended up in this predicament is a sorry tale of dashed ambition, stock car racing, financial crashes, Bosman rulings, lower league wage inflation and misplaced loyalty. Ironically, as club secretary and historian David Allan relates, it all begins with this current board - headed by illustrious defence lawyer and local Cowdenbeath man Donald Findlay QC as chairman - saving the club. They took ownership of the club from a business called Innovate, who themselves had bought out controversial chairman Gordon McDougall.
The financial crash only precipitated Cowdenbeath hitting the wall. What once was a reliable supply of supplementary income - the rent for the stock cars - began flowing in the other direction, when Innovate - faced with numerous property deals going south - transferred ownership of Central Park to the stock car firm. Now it was the football club who had to pay the rent for the use of the ground, and with much of the lump sum used in pay-offs to McDougall and former manager Brian Welsh, the club soon found themselves £70,000 down a year on their pre-2010 income.
Selling on a couple of star players might have paid the bill but the transfer market has been a theatre of cruelty for the club. Losing a manager in Danny Lennon, assistant manager in Austin McPhee and a number of first team players like Darren McGregor was bad enough, but even taking Greg Stewart from Syngenta Amateurs and painstakingly turning him into a top prospect did nothing for the coffers. Having waited until he was 23 before moving to Dens Park, to date the only sum the club have received for Stewart's services is £7,000 out of the half million pounds which Birmingham City paid Dundee for him. It is £7,000 more than they ever got for turning around Kane Hemmings' career, or giving Nat Wedderburn a platform to move on Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
The board at Cowdenbeath feel they have been loyal to managers like Colin Nish and Liam Fox but this is last chance saloon time. They have paid out of their own pockets, and went to the fans for assistance in 2015, but the well appears to have run dry. Neither does it help that the introduction of the trapdoor and clubs like big-spending Edinburgh City mean that more money is being thrown around League Two, while the betting furore over Dean Brett was another unwelcome matter in the club's in-tray.
"The plan is to try to win the remaining league games," said Allan, who is considering his own future on the board. "But I won't beat around the bush - that doesn't look an easy task. But we have Clyde twice, who are our nearest opposition. The ambition is to stay up, but we know there is a second chance in the play-off. We will put all our resources into that.
"We have no debt, we don't owe anybody anything, we don't have people on the door, but we need sustainable sources of income," he added. "Once the stock cars go, and once the big crowds of the championship go, it becomes even more difficult. We went to the fans with a scheme in 2015 and got a reasonable response but it wasn't enough to make up the investment needed to compete. We lost all our best players, went down, and have found it very hard to stabilise and rebuild the team. We had a lot of ambition, we tried to get somewhere, which was very difficult with the fanbase we had. Whether it has rebounded on us or not I don't know."