Livingston, eh? A hammer-throwing, physical, not particularly pleasant to watch team people outside of West Lothian would have you believe.
Few really realise just how much of a journey they have been on in their recent history. They’ve been up and down the divisions, faced with huge financial pressure, but yet, they somehow managed to secure themselves a terrific fifth-placed Premiership finish last term. It’s been rags to riches and everything in between for the Livi support.
“’I’ve been a Livingston fan for as long as I can remember,” Journalist and Supporter Calum Brown told NTOF. “For the majority of my time throughout school, Livi were mixing it in the lower leagues as quite frankly a bang average side, if not poor. It’s funny now looking back at old matches, we’d be leading 3-0 early doors and still I wasn’t confident of us seeing out the lead at times. We were that kind of team.
“I wouldn’t change it though, supporting my local team through thick and thin has been challenging growing up with all my mates either Celtic, Rangers, Hearts or Hibs, but I’ve been rewarded for my patience the last few years that’s for sure.
“I think naturally expectations rise season on season due to how excellent we’ve been since our return to the top-flight. We were tipped for an immediate return to the Championship in our first season back, and after defying expectations we were again tipped for relegation by many last year too after losing some key players. It all seems a distant memory now after a wonderful season in 5th, but I think the great thing about the club as a whole – the management, players and the majority of fans – is that we never go above our station. We remain grounded in my opinion. The ethos around the club the last few years has simply been staying in the league, and anything above that is a bonus.”
At one point in time though, it wasn’t as simple as stability and Premiership security. Former player and manager Gary Bollan was with The Lions as boss in 2009 when they were in the Third Division, faced with the prospect of going part-time after years of financial turmoil. Bollan gave NTOF an insight into just how troublesome this period was.
“To say it was turbulent… it was far worse than that. Even before our first Third Division game against Montrose, we didn’t know if we had enough players until 4PM on the Friday afternoon. I was out then helping the groundsman trying to get the pitch prepared. They had no lawnmower, so myself and Brian Welsh helped the groundsman get the pitch playable in a respectable for Saturday. We won 2-0 and it was worth the cleaning!
“When the games got started it was much easier, we just got on with it. We eventually won the league and although the games were hard, we won it quite convincingly. We were the big club and everyone wanted our scalp, the opposition were really up for it.”
Eventually they did stay full-time and who knows how things would have panned out if they hadn’t. West Lothian Courier Reporter Callum Carson, heading into his seventh season covering the Lions, told NTOF that he reckons it was a pivotal moment: “They had two huge decisions to make; Whether to stay full-time, which they did, and then whether to keep David Hopkin or not. Both things worked out well but it could quite easily have gone the other way. Who knows, they could have still been a League One club, even now.
“It’s completely changed and it definitely goes back to staying full-time and keeping David Hopkin. It was the full-time decision that was the main thing because there were guys on £200-£300 per week, full-time. Folk were rejecting Livi to play at Albion Rovers and clubs like this, because they could make more money part-time and have a career outside of football – but It’s worked out well!”
A few league titles and a play-off win later, Livi have now enjoyed two successful seasons at Scottish football’s top table. The whole club has been rejuvenated from top to bottom, finding themselves security off the park perhaps most importantly. After the years Livi have had in recent times, the football on the park is a bonus.
“I’m very optimistic for the season ahead,” Brown said. “We’ve lost a couple of players in Steven Lawless and Ricki Lamie, but I think we’ve brought in more than adequate replacements in Alan Forrest and Jack Fitzwater, and recruited very well all over the pitch. Our strength in depth this season is, in my opinion, really solid, and I’m confident we can stay out of trouble and continue the good times. I genuinely believe we’re good enough to secure a top six finish.”
Bollan reckons his former team and Gary Holt can go on and achieve further success this term:
“They have kept a fair bit of their squad and what they have added is better than what they’ve let go. They had a great season and I’m sure they will have a great season and maintain their Premier League status.
“You never know where things will end up. I think they’ll do really well; I know Gary and David Martindale. They are really hard to beat, their home form is good so that will stand them in good stead for the season ahead. There’s a reason that when jobs in Scotland come up just now in Scotland, that Gary’s name’s at the forefront. I wish him success this season.”
For Carson, he believes the club deserve credit off the park as they look to build on last season’s successes: “I think they’ve done a hell of a lot of work off the park. A lot of people don’t appreciate how much effort goes into employing the correct number of staff, making the media room fancy, all these things.
“It’s been 12-13 years since they were in the Premiership. When they first got promoted, they didn’t know how to be a Premiership team. But they certainly do now. I don’t see them taking a significant step back. Top ten is the aim for everyone at the club and they should achieve that comfortably.”