Pricing Out Of The Game
Against my better judgement, I’m currently a paid up member of the Tartan Army. Now, before I begin to explain why I say “against my better judgement”, I’ll just clarify a few things.
I’ve always been a Scotland fan. The first game I was ever taken to was a friendly match at Hampden against Poland in 1990. A week earlier I’d watched Celtic lose to Aberdeen on penalties on a black and white TV in the back garden, so I was delighted to finally be going along to my first ever live football match. Given my Polish background it was a fitting game to start me off, and it helped that both of Celtic’s Polish players – Dariusz Dziekanowski and Dariusz Wdowczyk – would play in the game. I have some terrifically strong memories of that game, like my first view from the sun kissed Hampden terracing – the Celtic end of course – to the ridiculous own goal that Gary Gillespie looped over Andy Goram for the equaliser. Weirdly, I have no memory of the Scotland goal from that game, something I can only attribute to the fact it was scored by Judas.
I’ve been to other Scotland games over the years and, unlike many Celtic fans I know, I’ve never encountered any problems within the Scotland support. It’s always been evident that the Tartan Army largely consists of fans of clubs outside of Scotland’s big two, but I’ve never seen any animosity towards fans or players of them. That’s not to say I don’t believe those who have, but I firmly believe that things had improved vastly by the time I started going to games so I’ve never let it bother me. The committee selection issues were long gone and I don’t remember hearing anyone being booed by their own supporters just because they happened to wear green or blue every other week.
Indeed, I see many similarities between the Celtic support and the Tartan Army. Both have a very welcome habit of travelling across Europe and the world, drinking cities dry and making friends as they do. I’ve always seen both sets of fans as being excellent ambassadors for club and country and I’m proud to count myself among their numbers. It does, however, make me laugh when I see Celtic fans referring to Scotland fans as “Tartan Fannies”. It’s as if no Celtic fan ever gets dressed up in ridiculously over the the top clothing or sings songs from musicals. Honestly, I’ve heard Celtic fans moaning about Scotland fans singing “Doe a Deer” from the Sound of Music using those very words, not realising that You’ll Never Walk Alone is originally from Carousel!
I also consider myself to be passionately Scottish. I’m proud of where I come from, just as I’m proud of my heritage, and that too is not unique among the Celtic support. I have Irish heritage, but I don’t identify with Ireland in the same way many Celtic fans do. For me, I identify with Scotland – albeit a romantic aspect of what I believe Scotland could and should be rather the reality. I’m pretty sure that’s the case with most people who identify with just about anything right enough! The dream is always far better than reality.
I do find it rather sad that I should have to justify myself when it comes to this kind of thing. I stand by everything I’ve said above, and as always it’s very much an “each to their own” issue. Some people just can’t stand international football and that’s fine, but I’ve always enjoyed it.
Admittedly though, my whole argument falls down when it comes to funding the SFA.
Now, as a Celtic fan I have seen plenty of run ins with those who run Scottish Football. It’s not just the SFA of course, but they’re the highest body and ultimately the one the other bodies have to answer to somwhere along the line. The simple fact is they are an utter shambles and I won’t get bogged down in slagging them off from a Celtic perspective. There’s plenty of other blogs where I can do that, and have done so in the past!
However, the SFA are now getting so out of hand that the Tartan Army are starting to turn on them – and rightly so.
I was at Ibrox on Saturday to see Scotland beat Georgia 1-0. Gordon Strachan has done a great job of taking a relatively average Scotland squad and getting the best out of them. Indeed, some of the football Scotland played on Saturday was great to watch, if lacking an end product. I’ve seen Scotland play over the course of 24 years now, and some of what they played on Saturday was as good as I can remember. Had the finishing been there it could have been a far bigger win than the 1-0 suggested. It’s just typical that it wasn’t. Nevertheless, there’s a definite feeling that Scotland are heading in the right direction and now have a genuine chance of qualifying for a major tournament for the first time since the World Cup in 1998.
And yet, despite the harmonious feeling between the fans and the team, the attendance at Ibrox was the worst for a competitive Scotland match since a dead-rubber in October 2001. More Scotland fans turned up to watch some of the utterly dismal times under Berti Vogts and Craig Levein than turned up to see an on-form Scotland play their first home match in an optimistic campaign. Why is that? Well, put simply, the SFA have priced the Tartan Army out of attending matches.
The game at Ibrox on Saturday got to the point where you had to pay £45 for a child! That is ludicrous. I couldn’t tell you what my dad paid to take me to the match in 1990, but I know that even if you added in his own admission price, the programme he bought me and the cost of the fuel to drive there and back then you would still get nowhere near £45! Ultimately the problem was that there was no concession tickets available on the day, and as such a child’s ticket was the same price as an adult. But even when you think about that, £45 for an adult ticket to see Scotland take on Georgia is absolute robbery.
Now, admittedly, you could get into the game for cheaper than that. I did, and my own ticket for the game was marked as £30. Personally, I find £30 to be quite expensive to see Scotland take on Georgia, but even then it’s a bit of stretch to suggest that’s how much it actually cost. To get to £30 for this game meant I jumped through a few hoops.
I didn’t actually pay £30 for this one game. I paid £190 for the six game package. Those six games include the Georgia game, newcomers to UEFA Gibraltar – yes, that’ll be another £30 to see them – world champions Germany who could probably justify the £30 ticket, and arguably our main competitors for qualification – Poland and the Republic of Ireland.
Yes, that’s five games. The other game, and actually the most expensive ticket, is for a FRIENDLY against England. They might be the Auld Enemy, but it’s still a friendly! So why is this one priced at £40 when the others are £30? Sentimental value, that’s why. Rivalry sells, and they know they can get away with it. I’ve had enough experience of Celtic v Rangers games to know that one.
But that’s not all. The £190 match package was actually the cheapest option. To get it, I had to move from where I normally prefer sitting at Hampden. Usually I like to sit along the side of the pitch, but to get that I would have had to pay £250. No, to get the cheapest tickets I had to go behind the goals, somewhere that I usually avoid like the plague because the view at Hampden behind the goals is appalling. Fortunately, I got in quick enough that “behind the goals” is actually “slightly round the corner from the North stand that it actually makes no difference”.
I’m not done yet though. Paying through the nose for a downgraded ticket isn’t the whole story! No, to even be eligible to buy the match package at that price you have to be a member of the Scotland Supporters Club. That’s a bi-annual membership fee of £50, although if you renewed early enough then you got that for £45.
So, my £190 six match package actually cost me £235. Times two because I’m so under the thumb that I don’t get to go to the football without my wife these days. Plus postage which was a whopping £7.50 would you believe. Yep, six games of football cost me £477.50! £39.79 per ticket in case you’re keeping track, and as far as I can see that’s as cheap as it could possibly be short of being a child. Yes, there were lower prices six match packages for children – there were some concessions to be had along the way.
That’s not the full story though, as here’s how that actually worked. In January this year, I renewed our SSC memberships. This had to happen early for the cheaper price, but even renewing later would have happened long before the ticket prices were announced. Yes, I had paid £90 before even knowing how much more I would have to pay to go to the games themselves!
When the prices came out, I hit the roof. My head screamed not to buy them, despite the fact it meant I would have spent £90 and would have absolutely nothing to show for it. But my heart took over and convinced me to get them anyway. After all, I’ve never been to a Scotland v England game and it’s one of those games that’s on my bucket list. They might have been an annual event in the past, but those annual games stopped in 1989 – a year before my first match. We’ve played England four times since then, and three of them were at Wembley.
But more than that, as I’ve said earlier I’m of both Polish and Irish descent. Having a Scotland group with both Poland and the Republic of Ireland in it tugs on all sorts of heart strings. So once I had worked out how to “save” £120 by getting the cheaper tickets without having too poor a view after all, then my heart won and I bought them against my better judgement.
Of course, not everyone in the Tartan Army is going to be of Polish and Irish descent, or will have never been to one of those games against the Auld Enemy. I’m guessing I’m in a small minority there! More generally, not everyone in the Tartan Army will be able to afford to buy these tickets despite their head telling them otherwise. There will be people in the Tartan Army who just couldn’t afford these tickets, while others will have point blank refused to pay the prices because they’re extortionate. What a ridiculous situation that is, but it’s one the SFA have not only created themselves – but backed!
There’s a full discussion of the ticket pricing on the Tartan Army message board but ultimately the SFA’s argument boils down to a few key points.
– Prices had remained the same since 2010
– The prices went up from the previous campaign because there’s 6 games not 5
– You get a £35 discount as an SSC member over those who buy in a public sale
– The prices are comparable to those of music concerts, rugby matches and football matches in England
Okay, so lets look at those in detail. Firstly, prices not increasing since 2010 is a ridiculous statement as that’s a whole TWO qualifying campaigns. That’s not a long period of time in football, and indeed my Celtic season ticket this season is actually less than it was in 2010. Even if you ignore the £100 discount that Celtic have given us in the last two seasons it’s pretty much the same as it was back then. Most of the clubs in Scottish football have already realised they’ve fleeced about as much as they can out of their faithful and loyal fans as they can. The SFA, on the other hand, are living in cloud cuckoo land and think there’s still more fleecing to be done yet.
Secondly, six games not five. No one is disputing that we have an extra game. However, there’s still only five competitive matches. There was no option to skip the England friendly! If you wanted all the qualifying matches, you had to take that game as well! That was a ridiculous decision in itself, but given the friendly also works out as the most expensive of the six matches they really are taking the piss with that, Auld Enemy or not!
Thirdly, a £35 discount for SSC members isn’t a discount at all when you have to pay £45 to be a member in the first place. Simple arithmetic tells you that I’m down £10 for each member by that decision. Had I known that would be the case in January (which of course I didn’t) I wouldn’t have bothered renewing my SSC membership and I would have bought my tickets in the public sale and saved £20. The only reason to be an SSC member currently is if you want to go to away games, which I would love to do but my current circumstances as a relatively new father won’t allow.
Fourthly, the comparison with other games in England is a joke. Ticket prices down south are habitually ridiculous even when you compare them with Celtic’s biggest games. The most I’ve ever paid for a regular football match was the UEFA Cup final in 2003. But that was a final, and therefore not comparable to a qualifying match – even if the SFA seem to think the FA Cup final is a good example.
The most I’ve paid for a regular match was a Celtic game at Ibrox which cost me £42. I nearly didn’t bother because that’s ridiculous, but as it turned out we could have won the league that day so I did. We didn’t, but until Saturday that had also been my last trip to Ibrox so it was still something of an historical trip. Try getting a ticket for an Arsenal match against anyone for that price though. Football in London must be some of the most expensive in the world, so again the FA Cup final comparison is farcical.
Funnily enough, the SFA didn’t bother comparing prices with say… fellow qualification group members and World Champions Germany. You could get a ticket for our game against them for just €25. An Ireland season ticket also covering six matches? Their prices start at €138. That’s just over £100 currently, and the Germany ticket is just under £20. The Polish FA set the prices for their double header this month against Germany and Scotland from £30 for BOTH matches. If you couldn’t get to both, you could still get a single ticket for £19. Don’t take my word for this, the SFA web site confirms all of this while still trying to justify their higher prices!
The SFA are being utterly delusional when it comes to their ticket pricing and they clearly show no signs of budging. Just read the rest of the Tartan Army message board thread and you’ll see how this is going down among the supporters. Just look at the empty seats at Ibrox on Saturday to see the effect it’s having.
As I’ve said already, my heart bought these tickets not my head and even then it was a close run thing. That won’t happen again – I don’t have any other heritage to call on and I’ll have been to a game against England by the next campaign. I won’t pay those prices again. The people who run the game in this country are pricing ordinary fans out of attending and it’s only going to get worse as more and more people get sick of being fleeced. There were fans handing out cards trying to drum up support for a petition to do something about these prices, but I have a feeling it will fall on deaf ears. The suits already responded to the outcry when the prices were first announced, and I suspect they will have paid more attention to the 34,000 seats at Ibrox that were filled than the 16,000 seats that weren’t.
There’s a sad theme running through my football thoughts of late – money is ruining football. Be it the shambles at Celtic I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, or the ridiculous ticket prices set by the SFA, ordinary football fans are being driven away by the suits at an ever increasing and alarming rate. If things don’t change quickly, people like me will be lost to the game entirely. And once you lose the habit, it’s very hard to get it back again.
If I follow through with my threat not to renew my Celtic season ticket at the end of this season, and sadly nothing has changed at Celtic yet to make me think otherwise, then my final Celtic game will be the last league game of the season in May 2015. Who that game will be against will only be decided after the league split. If the SFA continue on the path they are on, then my final football match could well be the same as my first. Scotland’s final home game is at Hampden against Poland in October 2015. I’ll be there, what remains to be seen is what happens after that.
The clock is ticking, lets get these problems resolved.