Partick Thistle: David Beattie beats 'not so cuddly' drum

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
David Beattie at Firhill
David Beattie is stuck in Spain

Of all the frustrations that a broken ankle brings, it is missing life at Firhill that is paining David Beattie most.

The Partick Thistle chairman is stuck in Spain as he recovers, but his mind is never far from events in the west end of Glasgow.

Beattie once described himself as "a fan but never a supporter", since he seldom attended games despite inheriting a passion for the club from his father.

That distinction wouldn't apply now, but he retains the balanced perspective of an experienced businessman who can separate emotion from logic in the decision-making process.

He kept in touch with Partick Thistle's fortunes in their defeat at Tynecastle last week online and acknowledges that the team's start to the season "hasn't been ideal".

He never loses sight of the bigger picture, though, since he considers his responsibility as a board member to ensure that the club remains strong and stable for future generations. Life at Firhill is rarely sedate, though.

"Not So Cuddly Anymore"

A lifetime of following the fortunes of Partick Thistle has left its mark on Beattie. The experiences remain relevant and few supporters old enough to remember the Save The Jags campaign, which saw supporters of all backgrounds raise enough funds to stop the club going out of business in 1998, would rail against a budget plan that sets out to balance the books.

Beattie has talked of four-year plans, of establishing the club in the top-flight, or encouraging youth development, but the primary aim is to ensure that Thistle don't face financial peril again.

The club is currently around £650,000 in debt, although that is down from around £3m when Beattie joined the board, but financial challenges remain.

Thistle suffered a drop in attendance levels last season, which will contribute to a loss in the next set of accounts, but they are not alone in the need to attract supporters back to games. Beattie remains justifiably proud of the initiative to allow under-16s in free at Firhill, though.

"We always aim to have a break even budget, although this year we're probably going to show a loss because crowd numbers are down quite a lot, which took us by surprise," Beattie said.

Partick Thistle mascot Kingsley celebrates with the players at Firhill
New Partick Thistle mascot Kingsley became an internet celebrity this summer

"We're not far away from achieving the sustainability, not only in the financial sense - which is the legacy that we leave behind - but Premiership status."

Other clubs, such as Kilmarnock and Dundee United, have negotiated debt reduction deals with Lloyds Bank. Thistle will continue to look for ways to reduce their debt, while trying to maintain top-flight status, but Beattie has other issues that he wants to address.

"I would also like to not be known as that nice wee, cuddly club," he said. "So we're using a strap line called 'Not So Cuddly Anymore'.

"That links in well with the [Thistle mascot] Kingsley phenomena, which took us by surprise. We knew it was a bit radical, but we didn't realise how many people were going to jump on board with it.

"It works for us, but [we're trying to get rid] the old image of Thistle being that nice cuddly wee club, everybody's second team, [when] we're committed to playing really good football and we're a serious club.

"I'd prefer us to be everybody's first club, but I hate the whole scenario of "Partick 0" and all of that kind of thing from years ago.

"That can be derogatory to the football club and to everything we're trying to do. I'm very happy that everybody looks at us a nice club, but we're a serious club."

"We need some blue-sky thinking"

Celtic visit Firhill Stadium this season
Attendance figures have fallen at Firhill Stadium despite Thistle's continued Premiership presence

Beattie brings the sensibility of a fan to his role as chairman and it irks him that the club has seen attendance figures fall. There was also a reaction among season ticket holders to being moved out of the North Stand this season to accommodate away fans.

That decision was taken because of the growing problem with flares at matches, which are a fire hazard in the wooden main stand at Firhill. Even so, there is an issue for all the clubs in Scotland when it comes to trying to bring fans back.

"Every club is trying to do it in isolation, but we have to create a new spark," Beattie said. "It's up to the clubs together to come up with innovative and new ways of attracting people back into football.

"What are we trying to achieve? More people back to football. Let's start with that.

"Is it summer football? That might be part of the answer, but there isn't one answer to it. We need to decide where we're taking Scottish football, because without supporters no club can survive, frankly."

"Hope's not a good word; optimism is better"

Partick Thistle manager Alan Archibald
Partick Thistle manager Alan Archibald has not been able to recruit as widely this season

Thistle are now in their third season back in the top-flight and last term's eighth place finish is a target to try to improve on.

Other clubs around them in the division have recruited more widely during this transfer window, but Beattie remains adamant that the focus should be on seeking progress, not holding their ground.

"Every year, we sit down with the manager and say, how can we grow next year?" he said.

"As far as the football is concerned, we're not saying bottom six. I don't think we should be looking at Thistle as a yo-yo club anymore, we think we should be a Premiership club and trying to grow it. It's not an overnight success, it's a slow burn.

"I don't think hope is a good word; optimism is better. We've got the basics right and we've still got some other positions we would like to strengthen."

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