By JONNY CLARK
MONTROSE are currently bottom of the Scottish League Two table, and the threat of relegation to non-league football and and into the abyss is now very real.
The club appointed Stewart Petrie as manager on Sunday, with the 46-year-old taking over after Paul Hegarty, who kept the club up in the first ever pyramid play-off in 2015, was sacked last month.
Hegarty, formerly of Ross County and Dunfermline, joins the club from local junior outfit Broughty Athletic – where he was assistant manager.
The scale of the challenge for Petrie is huge. Keeping the Gable Endies in the league system is massive, especially given that relegation would mean Highland League football for a side located 40 miles down the east coast from Aberdeen.
Montrose diehard Brian McComskie has lived next to Links Park for over two decades and has watched what he describes as the ‘demise’ of the Angus club.
He sighed: “There’s been some great Montrose teams over the years. Think back to the 70s when we beat Hibs 3-2 here, were leading against Rangers at Hampden in a Cup semi-final.
“It’s just been a downward spiral since then, though, and we’re going through managers for fun.
“If Montrose are relegated then it could be over. It would be a catastrophe for the club.”
That nightmare was minutes from reality for Montrose at the end of the 2014/15 season when they needed a last minute goal from former Rangers defender Marvin Andrews to remain in League Two in place of Highland League champions Brora Rangers.
Football in the UK’s most northerly football championship would spell financial disaster for the Links Park club.
Not only is the Highland League a difficult league to get out of with Cove Rangers, Formartine United and Brora Rangers consistently at the summit – but trips to the likes of Brora and Wick are both longer than 10 HOURS each way from the east coast.
East Stirlingshire are our only example of League Two team plummeting through the trap door and into non-league football when they were beaten by Lowland League champions Edinburgh City last season.
This season they struggled initially despite £40,000 parachute payments bolstering the playing budget.
The club have improved their fortunes drastically since, and even won 10-1 against Gala Fairydean Rovers last weekend – but are still eight points adrift of leaders East Kilbride in second place.
Though they have improved, East Stirling are still a powerful example of the difficulties falling from the pyramid can bring for a club of such stature.
Montrose train twice a week – and have separate sessions for players based on location, Brian tells me.
He revealed: “Those based in or around Montrose come here to Links Park to train two nights a week, but those based around the central belt train in Perth.
“I remember when I was little I would go and watch the boys train every session, and it would just be players from as far north as Aberdeen and as far south as Dundee, now they come from all over.”
Montrose are only a point behind Edinburgh City and Stirling Albion at the foot of the table, but newly appointed manager Petrie must ensure that the club retain their League Two status or the Gable Endies face economic disaster.
A club averaging under 500 fans per home match and travelling an average of nearly 100 miles a week could be damaging enough to see one of Scotland’s oldest football clubs drift into oblivion.