As a huge fan of football, I often look at my life and regret being born in this era. I was born into a family of bluenoses; hence my love for Rangers is almost innate. However, my knowledge of football did not begin to mature until I was around eight years old, thus the majority of the glory of the 9 in a row years, and almost getting to the final of the 1992-1993 UEFA Champions League were virtually lost on my naïve little brain. That said, if it was not for watching players like Brian Laudrup, Paul Gascoigne and Jorg Albertz my love for the game and my club would not have propelled to anywhere near the levels it is at today.
Furthermore, the atmospheres of games in these eras were much more electric than they are today. I still get goosebumps looking back at my first European tie in 1999, when Rangers defeated a then hugely talented Parma side. The deafening roar of the Ibrox crowd changed my life that night, and I fell even more in love with the side that I had obsessed over since I was born. Fast forward to 2011, and Ibrox is no longer a chasm of noise. I have been attending as a season ticket holder for 11 years now, and have no doubt that as each season has passed, the atmosphere – and perhaps attendance – of the Ibrox faithful has slowly deteriorated. Patience for an Old Firm derby, or a now rare European night is now required, as the ‘run of the mill’ games against the rest of the SPL sides tend to be flat, with the Union Bears doing everything they can to try and bring as much noise to the stadium as possible. The lack of atmosphere is a trend across the SPL, with smaller clubs tending to wait until the Old Firm come to town before attending in numbers and making themselves heard.
However, the SPL announced earlier this week that clubs can now submit applications to have safe standing sections within their stadium, which would be subject to approval from their local councils. 75% of SPL clubs stated interest in implementing safe standing areas within their stadium, so it would appear that there is an overwhelming support for the idea. Wishing to go back in time again, I would have loved to experience being part of the reported 118,567 fans that attended Ibrox in 1939 for a match against Celtic, or the even more ridiculous 149,415 that attending Hampden in 1937 to watch our country play against that lot from down south. Of course, times have changed, and the demanding need for health and safety at football matches has stopped the possibility of attendances such as these from occurring. The tragic events of the Ibrox and Hillsborough disasters obviously highlight the need for caution within standing areas of the stadium – but surely there is a reason the SPL is choosing to call them ‘safe standing’ areas?
As already mentioned, atmospheres across the league now appear to be on their last legs, with attendances also dropping. The use of standing sections is a much cheaper alternative, meaning that ticket prices could also be reduced. Let us look across to the glowing example of the Bundesliga and, more specifically, German giants Borussia Dortmund. The Westfalenstadion has both standing and seated sections, and can hold a total capacity of 80,720. In the 2010-2011 season, the stadium boasted the second highest average attendance across Europe, with on average 79,250 fans attending each game (a staggering 98.2% of the stadiums total capacity). The team that defeated this average was Barcelona with an average of 79,390 attending each game. However, this was just 80% of the stadiums total capacity. Germany has seemed to have revolutionised the match-day experience for supporters, by trying to cater to their needs.
The whole of the SPL must look towards the efforts of the Germans, and also attempt to accommodate the needs of the fans, for the benefits of the league. At the end of the day, a club would be nothing without its fans (unless you are Man City who can keep spending money without the need of selling tickets and merchandise), and an atmosphere has the potential to make young fans, like myself many years ago, fall in love with the club they follow even more. Although the quality of football may not be like that of Barcelona’s, an atmosphere can help fans look forward to games again, and the use of standing sections will also mean a cheaper match-day experience. This factor should surely help raise the average attendances across the SPL, especially in this time of economic hardship. The Bundesliga has an average ticket price of around just €20 (approximately £17), and these tickets also double as rail tickets for fans, showing the fantastic value for money that is on offer.
The SPL must take heed of these structures, as at the end of the day, fans are just customers who need to be drawn in with value for money. At the moment, ticket prices are too expensive compared to the football on offer, and there is atmosphere to look forward to even if the football is poor. It is my opinion that standing sections can help fans look forward to matches again, by making them feel part of a ‘family’, as well as being able to standing next to their friends and sing in a relaxed atmosphere, in order to keep them happy even if the quality of football is more boring than the panel on Match of the Day – and yes, that includes Match of the Day 2. If not, the SPL could be staring into a financial abyss…either that or huge numbers of Scots will flock to Germany in search for cheap football, a pint and a hot dog.
By Steven Lamb, you can follow him on twitter @StevenLamb57