THERE was a crowd of just over 7,000 at Sunday’s Kilmarnock vs. Hibernian Scottish Cup quarter-final.
By Kilmarnock’s standards, that’s not bad although, to be fair, that was really thanks to the Hibs fans filling up their allocation. It created a great atmosphere and added to what turned out to be a really exciting cup tie, but games like this don’t really come round very often these days.
It’s a growing problem across Scottish football. Clubs are trying to get more supporters into matches, but are they doing enough? It’s something worth exploring.
Most First Division clubs have tickets priced around a level of £7-£10 for Under-16s, but that doesn’t seem to be bringing in enough younger supporters.
Fans are turning up in numbers for one-off cup games but not league matches
A few years ago, Partick Thistle launched the “Thistle Futures” and “Thistle Ultras” schemes for 0-16 year olds. Both provide a free season ticket and these fans are able to sit in their own dedicated areas. The schemes have been relatively successful in encouraging new fans to watch Thistle in the hope that as they get older, they still continue to support the club. I think the schemes are a very clever idea and it looks like the club will be continuing to operate them in the future.
However, my question is this. Why don’t more clubs try out schemes like this?
Sporadically some SPL clubs have put ticket prices down for matches, but it doesn’t happen enough. The problem for most SPL clubs is that they can’t afford to put admission fees down as there’s no guarantee that it will bring more fans through the turnstiles. The quality of football isn’t good enough and it’s no real surprise that fans are reluctant to pay their hard earned cash in these tough economic times.
It’s also no secret that crowds are diminishing at Celtic Park apart from European nights. Celtic will eventually cruise towards the SPL title, and there is a big worry that crowds will go down even further once this happens. While attendances averaging 40,000 are good by SPL standards, it’s only 6 years since most home SPL matches at Parkhead were attended by an excess of 50,000.
It’s clear that the absence of Rangers has caused some fans to disappear, but the cost of season tickets seems to be the real problem. People just can’t afford it anymore. After 8 years of having a season ticket, I will stop going at the end of this season. I want to support my team, but it just isn’t worth the money like it was before.
There is no real competition anymore. That is, of course, a general problem in Scottish football, but it is most apparent in the two leagues in which the Old Firm compete. Both Rangers and Celtic are about to clinch their respective league titles and at that point interest will deteriorate very quickly.
Can league reconstruction generate that interest again?
There has been great debate over the plans put on the table for proposed reconstruction of the Scottish league system. Most of the debate has been from a negative standpoint.
While more money will flow through the new three-tier system, the split of the top two tiers has caused great confusion amongst supporters and even those trying to push the plans through. How will the 8-8-8 split work? Will it actually be more competitive, or more to the point, will it be fairer? Nobody really knows yet.
Though talk of reconstruction is exciting, the plans put forward are not what the supporters want. Supporters want bigger leagues of either 14 or 18 but those in charge say we can’t afford to have bigger leagues. It’s obvious that as the three main governing bodies of Scottish football drive through these controversial reconstruction plans, the bodies are ignoring the supporters. We’re always told that we, the fans, are the most important part of football and that without us; there would be no football to watch.
Why aren’t they listening to us? We understand the financial constraints, but surely there are better, cost-effective, plans available?
We can only hope that if, by the start of next season, we are playing in this brand new 12-12-18 system, that it actually does work, but fans aren’t too optimistic. If we want more fans through the turnstiles, then the SFA, SPL and SFL have to listen. It appears that isn’t going to happen any time soon.
I am being quite negative, but at this current point in time, it is very difficult to be positive about the future of Scottish football. It has been a great season for Celtic fans via the progress made in the Champions League and of course for teams like Inverness Caley Thistle and Ross County who have really made their mark this season in the SPL, but there is not much else to get too excited about.
The only other excitement at the moment seems to be coming from the battle for promotion to the SPL between Partick Thistle and Morton and it’s very difficult to tell right now which way it will go.
These are tough times for Scottish football and we need more fans attending matches, but right now, it doesn’t seem like clubs are trying hard enough and it doesn’t seem as if these new plans are going to be attractive to supporters. All we can do is hope that there are better times ahead.