The Tartan Army has been feeling short-changed over recent years with performances on the pitch – now it’s the Scottish FA who are now trying to rip us off just as Scotland start giving us value for money.
It’s a fickle old thing to be a Scotland supporter. Over the past 16 years we’ve probably experienced more mood swings than a holding pen for The Jeremy Kyle show. But, for all our results on the pitch have perhaps lacked over that period, we pride ourselves on our ability to still have a helluva good time on our travels come win, lose or draw.
Rumbling our way from one ignominy to another, from one utterly squalid debacle to moments of pure euphoric joy lifting us into some kind of football-induced utopia, we’re a hardy bunch if nothing else.
From the farce in the Faroes to the 6-0 annihilation in Amsterdam, and of course not forgetting that night in Paris in 2007 where one swipe of James McFadden’s left boot sent an entire nation into disbelieving delirium, we’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in search of our Holy Grail of reaching another major finals.
We’ve watched our national team reach its lowest modern-day ebb in Toftir in 2002 as a schoolteacher scored twice against us to teach Berti’s schoolboys a lesson – yet we stood by our team; we’ve watched managers reach a tactical nadir in their 4-6-0 formations – yet we still stood by our team.
And if those particular embarrassments signalled the death of our national team as we knew it, then we have surely been reborn over these last 18 months under our own collectively-appointed messiah that is Gordon Strachan.
Scotland have started brightly in Group D, of that there can be no doubt. We pushed the world champions right to the wire in their own back yard. We produced some truly dynamic, incisive football against Georgia on Saturday – albeit profligate in only registering a 1-0 victory to show for it. And last night’s helter skelter 2-2 draw against Poland showed exactly how much belief has grown in this current side under Strachan insomuch as we can now go to places like Warsaw and leave disappointed with just a point.
For the first time in years, it seems, we actually have a Scotland team worth watching. Of course, Scotland being Scotland, and true to history, we were hanging on slightly at the end against Poland. Squeaky bum time, the Alamo, as so often is the case. But make no mistake, some of our football prior to that, both last night in Poland and on Saturday against Georgia, was a joy to behold; a throwback to better days and to a time when 80-odd thousand would regularly cram their way into Hampden to watch the likes of Baxter, Johnstone, Dalglish and co.
But Saturday’s game wasn’t at Hampden – it was at Ibrox. And there wasn’t anything remotely close to 80,000. In fact, there wasn’t even half of that. The official tannoy announcement at the end of the game claimed the attendance as 34,719 – some 16,000 short of Ibrox’s full capacity. To give it a sense of perspective, that was our lowest attendance for a competitive home fixture since a dead rubber against Latvia in 2001.
What a shame it is, then, that with such a feel good factor around our national team at the moment there is the very realistic prospect of them playing the rest of their home games in Group D in stadiums littered with empty seats. What a truly bizarre turn of events that, just as our team starts to boast the kind of talent genuinely capable of putting bums on seats, that there should be so many of them empty. Ibrox really should have been rocking on Saturday. Absolutely packed to the rafters. But, sadly, it just wasn’t.
The placing of Scotland in Group D is particularly apt and perhaps not without its own sense of irony. No, really, it is. It’s an initial that must ultimately stand for ‘Dumplins’ and ‘Diddys’, because let’s not kid ourselves the Scottish FA think anything less of Scotland fans after asking us to stump up £45 to watch your so-called ‘diddy teams’ like Georgia and Gibraltar. They really must think we’re all just a shower of dumplins. Or rather, they must think yer right aff yer heid!
Just at a time when our national team seem bona fide in their ability to avoid embarrassment on the pitch, and not only that, but to offer us genuine hope, our national governing body seem hell-bent on causing it off the pitch in their attempts to exploit our die-hard support with their shameful hike in ticket prices.
As though defending the indefensible, SFA chief executive Stewart Regan dubbed their new ticketing scheme as ‘fair and equitable’ when it was announced back in July. He even bumbled his way into the realms of cringeworthy by likening the prices to, believe it or not, a David Guetta gig!
Sorry, but is that really what has become of the Scottish FA’s top brass? Frankly there is nothing I could care about less than how much it would cost me to get into a David Guetta gig. What I do care about, though, is being offered a fair and reasonable price to watch the team I have loved and supported since a time when my school jumper was more commonly used as a goalpost than a sweatshirt.
Perhaps it shows just quite how out of touch they are with your average Scotland punter. For Regan and others of the Hampden prawn sandwich brigade, £45 might be nothing of particular note – not that they would be paying any such admission fee, mind you. But for the bread and butter of the Scotland team, their most committed supporters, it is simply nothing short of extortion.
We need to give all of this a sense of perspective. Scotland have not qualified for a major tournament in 16 years, as we needed reminding, yet we still consistently boast some of the highest average attendances in Europe. No mean feat, you might say. But you do also have to wonder how long that will continue if a solution to this new ticketing fiasco is not found.
It is simply not in the DNA of a Scotland fan – nor has it ever been – to turn our back on the national team, but Stewart Regan and the Scottish FA now seem sure to give our die-hard attitude its ultimate acid test unless they find a solution, obvious to you and me, to a problem that they themselves have created. Surely common sense will prevail, won’t it?
Written by Calum Crowe | Sub-editor & sportswriter for the Scottish Daily Mail. You can follow Calum on Twitter @CalumCrowe10