Now that we are at the end of the league season, and with respect to the job still to be done at Tannadice and McDiarmid Park, it seems like a good time for a post holocaust report.
Peppered around this page are three charts and a table* showing the attendance figures for the SPL in the last three seasons. A school kid could tell you that there is a positive trend in those charts and figures, but the people who run our national sport will look you straight in the eye and tell you “that can’t be right – Armageddon is coming!”
It is one of the most ridiculous and mendacious situations I have ever come across. The people who run our national game, aided and abetted by those in the MSM (sans the eye contact though) are actually trying to persuade us of how awful our game is and how unsustainable it will be in the absence of one, just one, club.
Think about that. The SFA and the SPFL trying to talk us out of supporting the game unless we all recognise the unique importance of one, just one, club. That is what has happened, no matter how they try to spin it. And despite evidence to the contrary contained in these figures, not one of them has admitted to an error, never mind the downright lies that they told to support the position they held, the one where anyone speaking of sporting integrity was mocked and ridiculed.
Whilst growing up as football supporter in the 60s, one of things I was constantly bombarded with via the medium of the tabloid newspapers was that football clubs should be grateful for the publicity afforded them via their back pages. These were probably reasonable claims, especially in the light of the relative lack of access to players and officials conceded to the hacks in those days, and the pre-eminent cultural position in which they helped to place football. Alongside that, the broadcast media, particularly Archie Macpherson’s Sportscene and Arthur Montford’s Scotsport could be relied on to talk the game up. Of course, there was something in it for the papers – sales. The more column inches devoted to the national sport, the further northward their sales, and consequently advertising revenues travelled.
The situation was further cemented by the fact that the press in that ante-interweb era held a monopoly over the exchange and dissemination of information. That symbiotic, win-win relationship between football and the press was as much a part of football reality as the Hampden Roar. It also endured for decades. The press would talk up the game to such an extent that folk often remarked that they hadn’t realised how much they had enjoyed a particular match until they had read Malky Munro or Hughie Taylor’s report the next day. Archie Macpherson is on record as having said the same thing about legendary commentator David Francey, “It was a much better game to listen to than to see!”
Today that symbiosis is broken. The press themselves, in print and in front of microphones consistently belittle the product, talk of crises and Armageddon, of our own version of the Eisenhower domino effect of clubs going to the wall one after another.
Aided and abetted by the two chief bureaucrats in charge of Scottish football, Stuart Regan and Neil Doncaster, who have consistently helped to hammer home the message that Scottish football is not good enough, and cannot sustain itself financially without Rangers, a club that could not itself sustain itself financially to the extent that it is being liquidated.
At a time when Scottish football was clearly in crisis, and badly in need of sponsorship which could mitigate the effects of that crisis, the press and the authorities sought to strengthen their own negotiating hand by making negative claims about the state of the game which never came to pass, and for which they have never apologised. The actual situation, which would not have been hard to predict had anyone actually bothered to analyse the business of Scottish football, is summarised quite easily by saying this;
- Since Rangers’ liquidation and subsequent absence from the top league, the average home attendance of the other clubs has INCREASED overall (See Fig 2).
- In this season, the other clubs have added 50,000 fans to home attendances compared to 2011-12 (the last year Rangers were in competition).
- In that time the league has been won (twice) by Celtic, and the other honours have been claimed by St, Mirren, Aberdeen, Celtic and (either) Dundee United or St Johnstone.
- In that time, both Dunfermline Athletic and Hearts (who both had historical financial problems) entered – and exited – administration after fan-led buyouts.
- Dundee United have cleared off their bank debt.
- Kilmarnock have restructured their bank debt, freeing the club from a precarious long-term situation.
- League reconstruction has allowed some money to trickle down to the second tier clubs in an attempt to mitigate the immediate effects of relegation and to reward ambitious clubs.
Looking at the table of attendances above, it is pretty clear that immediately upon Rangers exit, the overall figures took a dip. However there was little difference the in the figures if you leave Rangers out of the equation (Fig 3) – despite Celtic’s attendance taking a hit that year (down by around 5,000 per home match).
Taking Celtic out of the calculations, it is clear that there is a 6,000 uplift in this average (Fig 2).
It is still undeniable that less people overall are watching football (Fig 1), but the trend is upward if one leaves the Ibrox club out of the picture.
Furthermore, this statistic exposes the double edged sword that is retention of home gates. The fact that gates are not shared is predicated upon the notion that the bigger clubs do not depend on the smaller clubs for income. And since the smaller clubs are no longer recipients of big club largesse, their fortunes are not affected, at least not as much as was suggested by the Regans, Doncasters and Traynors of this parish. The “Trickle-Down” theory of Reganomics said otherwise – but clearly and demonstrably it was wrong.
The abandonment of gate sharing has made Scottish football less interdependent than it once was, but the irony is that it works both ways. There is hardly a club in the country that depends on Rangers for their own existence, and here is the news; small clubs are no longer financially dependent on the former Old Firm.
The fact, that is F-A-C-T, is that Scottish Football attendances in the top division are on the increase. The absence of Rangers has made no appreciably negative difference to any other club, far less caused a catastrophe of biblical proportions.
Even if the fools who were the harbingers of our doom were simply guilty of making an honest mistake, it is clear that they are uncontaminated with the slightest notion of how the game in this country operates. The Old Firm may be dead, but the OF prism is still being peered through by Stuart Regan, Neil Doncaster and the vast majority of print journalists. The latter who failed to honour that age-old football/press symbiosis because they believed, erroneously that David Murray’s dinner table was the hand that has fed them for over a century.
The irony is that as job opportunities diminish in the print sector, so too will the fine dining and patronage. I think they call that evolution.
Two years ago, in the wake of the fans’ season ticket revolt which saw the new Rangers forced to apply for membership of the league and begin at the bottom, those same MSM hacks taunted fans about putting their money where their mouths were. The fans responded splendidly as our statistics demonstrate, but typically there has been no recognition of this either at Hampden or in the media.
And the message from those fans is this: Scottish football is not dying. Not any more. At least not as surely as it was when David Murray started to choke the life out of it in the late 80s. The supporters are returning in numbers to see a competition untainted by the outrageous liberty-taking and rule-breaking of the last couple of decades, and all but one club has emerged from the mire of the Moonbeam Millennium looking forward to a new era.
If authorities allow the new era to thrive by restoring sporting integrity to the agenda, then the numbers, like the opportunities available to more and more clubs, will grow. The question is … will they?
Admittedly, these figures, like any set of statistics, can be cherry-picked to suit almost any argument that you care to construct. The fact remains though, that whilst it would be fanciful and ridiculously over-optimistic to claim that they bear witness to a burgeoning industry, it is utterly dishonest to conclude that they represent financial Armageddon. Armageddon? Aye right!