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VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: The inside story of Dunfermline’s takeover during a global pandemic

“The main thing I have learned over this process is don’t forecast anything,” says Dunfermline chairman Ross McArthur, excelling in the art of understatement.

Securing fresh investment for an underachieving Scottish football club is a challenge at the best of times.

Overseeing a complete takeover — while avoiding charlatans and chancers — is a more onerous task.

The notion of selling a majority shareholding to a respected investment group from abroad during a global pandemic is downright outlandish.

Yet, with the announcement of DAFC Fussball GmbH’s ascension to power on July 21, that is exactly what the Fife club achieved.

Remaining chairman of Dunfermline Athletic: Ross McArthur
Remaining chairman: McArthur

With border restrictions relaxed, new directors Thomas Meggle, Damir Keretic and Nick Teller, along with several other members of the Hamburg-based ensemble, are now in Scotland.

They have started to outline their plans for the future in the media and to supporters directly (they are holding talks with various fans’ groups this week) and further announcements are to follow.

But, before one looks ahead, it is only right to properly document how we got here, amid the most remarkable circumstances.

The lowest ebb

McArthur embarked on a search for fresh investment in 2019 but the journey to this point begins with Dunfermline’s emergence from administration in December 2013.

Fans rallied and rescued the club from the looming spectre of liquidation, with supporters’ group Pars United purchasing a majority stake from financial firefighters BDO.

It was a moment of catharsis and relief but, ultimately, created a ceiling.

The financial support of the Centenary Club Lifeline (contributing more than £1.5 million to date), injections from directors and gate receipts created a stable, if hand-to-mouth, existence.

It became apparent that in order to return to the Premiership, something had to change.

“We’ve done well but it needs more,” McArthur told Courier Sport. “I approached the existing shareholders and asked if they wanted to invest more equity in the club.

“Everybody understands that any money you put into a football club isn’t an investment, it’s a donation — and there was little appetite. Certainly not enough for us to fulfil what I wanted us to do.”

New owners DAFC Fussball GmbH

Meanwhile, a collective of experienced business figures had embarked on their own project seeking to — in the words of McArthur — ‘have some fun and prove that running a football club can be done properly and sustainably’.

Former St Pauli player, coach and director Meggle ignited the masterplan.

He delivered a presentation of such passion and detail (initially as a proposal for a football consultancy operation) that those who heard it decided: why not run a club ourselves?

Meggle in action for St Pauli

“We looked at teams from Portugal, Austria, Denmark and England,” new Dunfermline director Keretic said. “Then, boom, Dunfermline was the town and club.”

The introduction came through respected financial mind Dr Tom Markham and swiftly accelerated to a meeting in DAFC Fussball GmbH’s offices in Hamburg.

Hamburg summit

“When I first saw the calibre of the guys getting involved, I’m not saying I thought it was a wind-up, but I said: ‘Wait a minute, are you sure about this?’,” recalls McArthur.

Meggle enjoyed success in football and business, Keretic was a Davis Cup Tennis professional with Germany before serving as managing director of IMG Germany.

Nick Teller held a senior position with Commerzbank, Germany’s second-largest bank and Dr Albrecht Gundermann is a successful entrepreneur with a background in law.

McArthur adds: “It’s not just the lead guys. They are backed up by individuals with fantastic expertise in lots of different areas.”

A whirlwind partnership accelerated, with the group attending a subsequent match against Queen of the South in February 2020.

Little did anyone know that trips to Scotland would soon be made impossible as the severity of the Covid crisis hit home.

McArthur continued: “They could have easily used Covid as an excuse and said: ‘Let’s put the deal on hold until we see the lay of the land’.”

Indeed, the initial purchase of a 30 per cent stake in the club in September 2020 was as much symbolic as it was logistically crucial.

The injection of capital was ring-fenced and the Pars would have survived without it — but it was a show of commitment.

“They have been engaged since day one, watching the games on Pars TV,” continued McArthur. “We had Zoom calls with key people and all the departments of the club — but there’s nothing like seeing somebody face to face.”

The finer details

McArthur, who revealed Dunfermline were ‘quite far down the line with’ another group at one point, describes a new training ground as a ‘pre-requisite’ for a deal.

The new owners advised from afar and supported the Pars’ push to re-establish their own youth academy, the paperwork for which had to be completed by June. That will come into force next year.

Brexit was another challenge as the parties considered the future of the club’s recruitment, moving McArthur to note: “You either give up or you find a solution. You are always better to face the problems rather than put your head in the sand.”

There is also the stadium, something of a sizeable albatross around the neck of the club at times.

DAFC Fussball GmbH have the option to purchase the ground, which is owned by a separate company. Whether they will? McArthur is nonplussed.

Owners’ choice: Grant

“I don’t see it as an issue either way,” he adds. “This is our spiritual home. Although I would never say that we’ll never move, I cannot see that happening.”

The group were also pivotal in the appointment of Peter Grant following Stevie Crawford’s decision to resign.

“I’d like to think this [coming through Covid] has enhanced our relationship,” McArthur adds. “When you go through a period of adversity, you either come out of it stronger or you don’t. If you can cope with this, you can cope with most things.”

Peter Grant opens up on chats with new Dunfermline owners as he declares: ‘Germans are winners’

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