In the last week, we have seen a number of strange occurrences in Scottish Football, which if taken together might just point to a very different land than the one we were lead to believe we live in just two short years ago.
First of all there was the report from a firm of well known accountants which pronounced that a significant number of Scottish Football Clubs had, in fact, sold more season tickets for this coming season than they had in the course of the last several years.
Then we had the spectacle of the National team travelling to Wembley and playing very well AND being cheered on by a very large travelling support who appear to have been full of fun and who acquitted themselves well in the big smoke.
This morning I read that today’s match at Pittodrie is a sell out — with the old stadium being packed to the rafters for the visit of Celtic. This is the first time that Aberdeen have been able to sell out the fixture for some 6 years!
Not only that, various Celtic supporting websites have lead with articles saying that the return of a strong Aberdeen and Dundee United are to be welcomed– in fact not only welcomed but positively wished for.
In contrast, stories abound about the in fighting on the Ibrox Board. There are surreptitious share dealings and all sorts of company jockeying being deployed by the rival factions who are trying to gain control of The Rangers. Further, there is the suggestion from some well informed parties that not only will Ibrox and the Albion be sold and leased back to the club to generate much needed immediate cash, but that Murray Park has been sold off completely and will no longer be available to The Rangers for any purpose whatsoever!
Clearly, there are big troubles at the club which will not assist in the stated intention of rising to the very top in Scottish Football.
In between all of this, the debate goes on about Campbell Ogilvie, Press manipulation, the correspondence between Media House and the SFA, and between The SFA and Ibrox re the relationship between Charlie Green and Craig Whyte and so on.
Standing with my business hat on, I looked at all of this and wondered what it all meant, and pretty quickly reached the conclusion that we are now in a time of supreme opportunity for some of the clubs in Scottish Football—- particularly Aberdeen FC.
There is a view abroad, that in the absence of the “Strong Rangers” that Celtic Football Club will win the SPFL title for almost evermore — or at least until they are toppled from the top spot by the rise of a strong Rangers club somewhere towards the end of this decade or early in the next– because we are assured that they will be back– in one form or another– in a rather Arnold Schwarzenegger like fashion.
That return or initial rise if you like– its timing and its manner— is dependent on a number of things– not least the exit strategy of Charlie Green and his cohorts.
If it is true that The Rangers are going to part company with Ibrox and the Albion, that they have taken on a loan of funds which attract a rate of interest that amounts to 15% per annum, and that there are set figures for buying the old ( and decaying ) stadium back any time soon, and that they have yet again hawked the season ticket money, then the already flawed Ibrox business plan is burdened even more by interest and rent payments of an additional £3M per annum and rising!
It should also be noted that the accounts for old co from the mid naughties onwards boasted that season ticket sales, merchandising, corporate hospitality and so on had reached unprecedented levels—- but—- the club still did not make an operating profit without strange internals transactions such as the repurchase of media rights which added £15M on to the P&L’s AND the sale of Jean Alain Boomsong!
Accordingly, the current position will not make for good financial reading.
So– let’s presume that in the current climate Celtic are out of sight and will always be champions for ever and a day. What do the rest of the clubs say in the absence of the Ibrox club without whom they have been told they will perish?
Well, If I were in charge of Aberdeen FC I would look out across a city with an inherent population of some 220,000 souls sitting in a county which takes the population up by another 40,000 or so. I would note that the compact city also houses two universities and a number of colleges — all of which attract visitors to the city— and that its position as the oil capital of Europe also draws in a substantial number of itinerant workers.
Further, personal knowledge shows that many who studied at Aberdeen University or Robert Gordon’s in the 80’s left the city as Aberdeen FC fans and no matter where they have ended up in life they still make the journey back to Pittodrie when they can– especially in good times!
Alas, however, Aberdeen has not enjoyed ” Good Times” of late— in fact not really since ……….. the arrival of David Murray at Ibrox!
If you cast your mind back to the pre Murray era, Aberdeen were a force not only in Scotland but Europe as the recent nostalgia re Gothenburg has reminded us.
The city has an economic micro climate which suggests that it can ride economic hardship better than most and so all things considered this current period provides a great opportunity for the Dons.
Unlike Dundee United, Hearts, and Hibs, Aberdeen FC sits in a large one team conurbation and should be on the doorstep of a populace which can fill Pittodrie every single week …… IF that fan base can be motivated.
And there lies the rub– how do you get a notoriously fickle fan base out of the armchair and into the stadium?
The late Bob Crampsey once described Pittodrie by saying ” And there are the masses of Aberdeen fans, masquerading as rows and rows of Empty seats!” yet in their heydey an Aberdeen crowd on a visit to Glasgow were among the noisiest– and to this football fans eyes — the scariest ( in a good sense ) supports to be seen.
Well, at this juncture, Derek McInnes and team need only look at every other football club in the land ( bar Celtic ) and determine that come next May those others will be below them in the league. If Aberdeen maintain a strong league run keeping everyone behind them then there is the possibility of a huge revenue swing in favour of the Dons– such a swing that would put them in an even stronger position for the following year.
Further, Aberdeen are a European name. Perhaps a European name from yesteryear and not the recent past, but the pedigree is there and as such there will be those who remember the heady European Nights both home and away. Reviving those memories and that reputation– at least to an extent– is not beyond the club, and with no disrespect to Motherwell and St Johnstone both of whom are liable to lose key players or even a manager between seasons, Aberdeen may just be of a size to consolidate each year rather than scramble to maintain the momentum of one good season which comes along every now and then.
Financial management and football rewards can go hand in hand when combined properly, and of all the clubs in Scotland who can benefit from a level playing field in terms of proper football governance, Aberdeen FC are uniquely placed in my opinion.
That is not so say that The Arabs, or the Hibees or anyone else cannot benefit– on the contrary— but the Dons are the most obvious candidates in terms of potential structure to really motor forward and regain a by gone status.
Such a situation, and the recognition of that potential, should be borne in mind by all at Celtic Football Club, as last year they struggled for a period in the league while they concentrated on their European exploits. If Celtic want to go further and further in Europe ( and why shouldn’t they ) they will have to be wary of any club which is capable of reigniting its fortunes from a lowly position or a position of having to look back at glory and potential glory rather than looking forward.
Further, with the way things are being organised at Ibrox, there is absolutely no guarantee ( some would say likelihood ) that an eventual challenge to a perceived dominance by Celtic will come from that quarter, and life in the top flight for any returning Rangers could prove very difficult if the likes of Aberdeen get their act together and start to produce the type of home grown team of old.
For now, I sense a degree of optimism about the Dons– not just on the playing front either. They have a fan base, they have a business model and a good young manager, and any comparative business exercise must conclude that they have every chance of rising above most of their rivals in the league, in terms of revenue, in terms of brand development and business expansion.
If I were an Aberdeen fan I would like to think positive and be ambitious in this climate, whilst at the same time casting an eye back to the days when they were top of the tree.
As one Aberdeen supporting ( but now Edinburgh based ) friend put it to me:
” Ah, those were the days my friend, those were the days……………”