When the full-time whistle rang out in Dingwall on Sunday, you didn’t have to look far to find some disconsolate Partick Thistle supporters.
Two thousand fans had made the long journey up to the Highlands, hoping to witness their team get their promotion bid over the line, before a second-half collapse saw Ross County score three times in the final 20 minutes to take the game to extra-time. The home side eventually triumphed in a penalty shoot-out to preserve their top-flight status, simultaneously crushing the spirits of the away contingent.
Most were ruing what could have been but there was one individual in the away section who was furiously crunching numbers in his head. Sandy Fyfe, the chairman of The Jags Foundation (TJF) – the Jags’ fan ownership vehicle and supporters’ club – knew that the team’s failure on the day was even more costly than anyone anticipated.
Everyone found out the scale of the issue on Wednesday when first the club board and then TJF released statements informing the support that Thistle had overspent for the season, running up loses of around £280,000. Fyfe and his fellow TJF director Andrew Holloway, chartered accountants by trade, had signed non-disclosure agreements earlier in the year and were all too aware of the eye-watering sums of money that had been lost during the campaign.
“The fans were so brilliant that I was largely swept along with the emotion of the day, of just being a fan,” Fyfe explained. “Of course, I was doing financial calculations in my head at full-time. My mum said she saw me on STV News looking really forlorn at the final whistle and that was probably when I was doing that quick calculation.
“But I am so proud of the fans on Sunday, and their reaction to the statement, and how they have dug deep so far to support TJF and the club. I hope that they continue to do so and buy season tickets. That pride in the supporters has just made it easier to pivot from the disappointment of Sunday to getting this out there and looking forward.”
TJF’s candid statement certainly didn’t mince its words. If not for the Scottish Cup tie at Ibrox back in February, it revealed, the club would have been unable to pay its wages that month. Fresh investment was sorely needed to get Thistle back on an even keel, and a call to arms for supporters was issued. But even Fyfe has been blown away by the response as hundreds of fans came forward.
“I think we really had to get people’s attention,” he said. “We spelled out in our statement the amount of money that we have pledged for next year’s budget, and we didn’t generate that amount of revenue so we had to get subscriptions and memberships up.
“We had to impress upon people that fundraising will be our focus. From TJF’s perspective, we have had a few battles in our existence and we are really looking forward to pivoting to being a positive, forward-looking fundraising vehicle for the club.
“We pledged £150,000 for the budget next season. The club asked us for a number and we pledged £150,000. We didn’t just make that number up – we looked at other fan-owned clubs, we looked at what we are generating just now, and we made an educated prediction as to where we could get to.
“Now, our board are really aligned on everything and are very supportive of each other. It looked like a stretched target but from the support we have had in the last 24 hours, it no longer looks like a stretched target. And if we can beat that stretched target, then that’s more money for Kris Doolan.
“We have shown a little bit of emotion in our statement and we have done that to press reset, to get that emotion out of the way. Now we ask all fans to look forward rather than back. The past is past.
“But particularly for Andrew and I, we have been sitting in stands, watching games with a different perspective of the outcome than just being fans. We have had this niggling feeling for much of the past few months.
“We needed to be clear to people about the scale of the challenge ahead. We tried to position ourselves as in – what would we want? What would trigger us into action? What would we want to hear? We are fans so it was easy to put ourselves in that position.
“That’s probably what was at the heart of it. Some people might say ‘that was too stark a thing to say, that was too transparent’. I don’t think you can ever be too transparent.”
The midweek announcements drew an unhappy comparison with the Save The Jags campaign of the late 90s when Thistle’s very existence was under threat. That was seen as a line-in-the-sand moment where supporters vowed to never again allow reckless financial planning to compromise the Jags’ security, yet here we are 25 years on. However, Fyfe is adamant that this time it is different.
“We have to have faith in the interim [club] board to appoint the right people as they transition to a permanent board,” he reasoned. “That’s the first thing.
“There have been periods since Save The Jags that we have been run at break-even or better, so it’s possible. Also, the difference now to then is that TJF have pledged money into the budget; not just for this year but there is a three-year plan being developed.
“It is brilliant that the interim board are doing a three-year plan. We have been asked to pledge money for three years so there is an ongoing fundraising vehicle.
“Save The Jags was a line in the sand – the money came in, it got us over the line and then we were back to normal. This time the fans are part of the long-term solution through regular contributions to the football club.
“Our secretary who mans the inbox messaged me saying they had hundreds of emails [on Wednesday]. We are probably now on track to get to that stretched target without doing many events.
“We will still be doing events and we still want to beat the stretched target but there is no complacency because the more money we bring in, the better we make the club. The reaction has been absolutely phenomenal. Some of the messages we have had and the acts of generosity we have seen… our fans are amazing.
“I want to stress this – the absolutely key thing is that there is no immediate prospect of administration or anything like that. The club has cash resources just now. We paid £50,000 on Thursday and will be paying £10,000 every month from the first of July. In addition, season tickets are going on sale and we will hopefully be well supported.”
It has been a helluva journey for Fyfe and his fellow TJF board members. There have been more setbacks than can be mentioned and plenty of opportunities to simply throw in the towel, yet they have ploughed on despite it all.
“It has been a roller-coaster,” Fyfe said. “The combination of what – and I hesitate to use this phrase – the young team have done in the John Lambie Stand… we said at one point that we wanted TJF to be where the cool kids hang out, and those young guys – who mostly came through the Kids Go Free scheme – have done a brilliant job of making the Partick Thistle support where the cool kids hang out.
“They have done such a brilliant job and with them doing that, and all the parties coming together and working together for the same purpose – the purpose that we should have been working towards all along, which is respecting Colin Weir and delivering fan ownership.
“With us all working together, with the engagement we have with our members, I actually think we are on the cusp of something good. Sometimes I feel a bit battle-scarred but then I look forward and think ‘this is going to be great when we get to where we always wanted to get to’. I feel that’s within touching distance now, even though there will always be challenges ahead.
“I have to compliment the TJF board. We have all had wobbles – I don’t know any TJF board member that hasn’t had a wobble at one point or another. But I have to compliment them for, if nothing else, their resilience – because there have been so many times where we could have just said ‘that’s enough, let’s leave this to someone else’. But we haven’t.
“There is a real strength and togetherness in that board of supporting each other, which has been remarkable. Our families have also been hugely supportive of us all throughout this process.
“I had said previously that we needed a catalyst event and perhaps Wednesday’s statement, on the back of Sunday’s disappointment, can be it.
“There’s another catalyst too – Kris Doolan. Kris Doolan, these young guys in the stands, the love we have for him as our manager… it feels like there’s a togetherness at the club just now with him as our leader. There is an increasing togetherness between the club board and the TJF board, and hopefully that transmits to the fans, the players and the manager.”