Entertainment, Sports

Clubs are right to put their own fans before the needs of Celtic and Rangers supporters – Graeme McGarry

I can almost hear the disembodied voice of Ange Postecoglou chiding me over my shoulder as I set out with this column; “Ahh, you’re not writing about ticket allocations are you mate?” But with apologies to the Celtic manager, yes, yes I am.

For while the minutiae of ticket administration makes the eyes of managers roll back in their heads like the reels on a puggy, these things do matter a great deal to supporters.

The reason the topic has become a live one again is through the disgruntlement of some Celtic fans, who feel that smaller clubs are biting their noses off to spite their faces by not allowing a larger allocation for the visiting support, when many seats in the home section of the stadium lie empty.

On the face of it, you can see the sense behind their point of view on both an emotional and coldly financial level. With Celtic and indeed with Rangers, demand always outstrips supply when it comes to away fixtures.

With fans having been denied enough opportunities to see their team in the flesh over the last couple of years, you can understand their noses being out of joint when they see empty seats as they watch their teams on their tellies with their ticket money burning a hole in their pockets.

Why would Motherwell, for instance, given this exact scenario played out at Fir Park on Sunday when they hosted Celtic, deny themselves the revenue of an extra couple of thousand tickets sold at 30 quid a pop?

Well, as Motherwell CEO Alan Burrows pointed out on Twitter when just such a query was put his way, it is all about fostering long-term goodwill with their own fanbase, rather than squandering it for a quick financial fix.

“We have three home stands, all of which have Motherwell season ticket holders, who have paid for their seat,” Burrows said.

“They haven’t committed their cash to support the club to be shifted about when there’s a more financially convenient situation.

“Our club have previously taken that route in the past, and all it does is erode the belief in trying to build something bigger and deeper within our support.

“As it happens, we’ve got more season ticket holders now than we’ve ever had at any point in our 136-year history. A part of that, in my view, is supporters genuinely believing that you make decisions with their best interests at heart, even if it’s to the detriment of a short-term cash injection.

“It’s a longer term project to grow our own supporter base and that means you have to make long-term calls.”

Interestingly, Burrows also revealed that as little as 60 percent of those home season ticket holders he references attended the match on Sunday, and that games against Celtic and Rangers always draw the lowest home crowd.

Whether that is down to the likelihood of a doing on the pitch or in wanting nothing to do with the baggage that comes off of it (I suspect the latter, mostly), with no way of knowing which of these season ticket holders will actually show, there is little Motherwell – or any other ‘provincial’ club – can do.

I can get all the arguments about swathes of empty seats looking bad on television, and of course, we would all rather see the stadiums packed out for these matches. Burrows clearly wants that too, but in the long term, he wants it to be his own fans who are taking up the seats in the home stands.

There was a similar rammy a few weeks earlier when Hearts only offered Celtic 1300 tickets for their clash at Tynecastle. The reason behind it was different, with Hearts able to sell more tickets to their own supporters, but the philosophy behind it was the same; looking after their own first and foremost.

I have heard the stance of Celtic and Rangers fans being described as arrogant when it comes to this topic, and there is no doubt some truth to the accusation. Particularly from one Celtic supporter who suggested the Motherwell ultras section, commonly known as the ‘Well Bois, should be moved from their decade-long home to accommodate extra visiting fans. The development of that group didn’t happen by accident, and its numbers would soon dissipate if they were shifted in favour of a quick buck.

But like any other group of football fans, I feel the views of Old Firm fans are probably more myopic than haughty. All fans see things through the prism of what benefits them and their own club, and now the clubs themselves are listening to them, and doing the same.

In fairness to a great many of the Celtic fans who responded to Burrows’ comments, they accepted the argument he put forward, which is not all that dissimilar to the one advanced by Rangers when defending their stance over Celtic’s ticket allocation for Ibrox. Even though the majority of Celtic fans will never be convinced it was anything other than a move to stop the sight of 10,000 of them partying in the Broomloan Road Stand from sticking in Douglas Park’s craw.

My own view is that a lack of away fans diminishes from that fixture, but when Rangers put forward an argument that they wanted to allow more of their own fans to buy season tickets, then it is little wonder that the vast majority of their own support back the move.

It all boils down to this; as a CEO of a football club, you have to look after the people who are there for your club week-in, week-out, and not inconvenience them in favour of those who rock up in greater numbers a couple of times a season.

If people invest – financially and emotionally – in a season ticket, then they have to feel valued by their club. It’s a two-way street.

Unfortunately, that can mean disappointment for away fans, but if you have decided to throw your lot behind growing your own fanbase, then you have to stick with it.

Wait, what’s that Ange? You can explain it better? “If you are a strict vegetarian, you don’t drop into Macca’s just because you are hungry mate, you know?” Indeed.

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