When you reflect for any amount of time at all on East Stirlingshire’s fall through the recently constructed SPFL trapdoor you are left with a rather surprising conclusion; it might actually have done the club a lot of good.
It’s not hard to work out why that conclusion would be so counter-intuative. League 2 may not be Dick Whittington’s London with streets paved with gold but it still provides for its clubs in a manner to which they have become accustomed.
It would be a long way down for anyone forced down that route. For a central belt club the Lowland League would be uncharted territory.
Would players of sufficient quality want to sign any more ? Would there be enough money in the biscuit tin to pay them what they were asking even if they were prepared to come ? Would the fans simply give up, deciding that the fall from grace was just too much of a humiliation for them to bear ?
These might all be legitimate concerns for clubs, all of which would have a significant bearing on the balance sheet. And that, in turn, might put a club’s future in peril.
But apply these questions to Shire’s specific circumstances and the picture changes.
Quality signings? The club has been routinely uncompetitive in the lowest Scottish League division for decades, only Spencer Fearne’s cash injected years changed that.
A slump in earnings ? You don’t need to know much about East Stirlingshire’s poor league finishes to understand that their inability to compete properly was largely about their financial poverty in relation to their direct competitors.
Fan desertion? Anyone who has spent any of the last 20 years following Shire could never be described as a glory hunter. Small in number they may be but the fans were never likely to be put off.
All-in-all, then, yes Shire have suffered a fall but they were much closer to the point of impact than any of their rivals in League 2 last season, and much more likely than any of them to survive the hit.
But it’s not just about survival. It’s also about recovery. Tough choices had to be made. Head coach Craig Tully probably felt that he deserved the chance to put things right and get Shire back into the SPFL. He never got the opportunity and was out just ten days after the Edinburgh City defeat.
John Sludden came in. The former Camelon Juniors boss’s first decision was to bring back Shire legend Derek Ure as club captain. In his wake came
players Sludden knew from junior football and a handful of ex-Shire men back for a second spell, just like Ure. Some of last season’s players, crucially centre-half Ross Fisher and another fan favourite, Connor Greene, also returned.
The squad was also recruited partly on postcode. Most of this season’s players live locally, creating the chance of a close team spirit.
Away from the pitch the club has worked tirelessly, pulling off its biggest shirt sponsorship ever, with Ladbrokes while keeping sponsors on board and
bringing in other new ones.
They have embraced their new Lowland League surroundings willingly rather than play the part of stick-in- the-muds who would rather be anywhere else.
The good grace with which Shire accepted their changed circumstances has not gone unnoticed and has brought plaudits. Maybe that breezy attitude is not surprising either. Competition’s not likely to be so tough and Shire have a group of players, on paper at least, capable of competing for the title. It’s easier to look forward to the hope of achieving something positive than contemplating one more season of struggle and toil. But they still want to get back into that elite group and they want this year to be one that makes the club more able to compete upon their return. The aim is to do it in one go. That will be a hard task; other Lowland League club have the same ambition as do some in the Highland League. They all looked enviously at Edinburgh City last May and fancied themselves in that same position.
The consequences of not achieving a return to League 2 by this time next year are being put out of mind right now on a wave of new season optimism.
But if parachute payments stop, if entry to the SPFL’S League Cup and Challenge Cup become uncertain, what then? A common refrain is, “There’ll always be a Shire.” The season ahead will be hugely influential in deciding what kind of Shire that will be.