For those that follow me on twitter or regularly dip into my columns here on this platform, you will know I am a fervent supporter of our game in Scotland come hell or high water.
Personally I believe we have much to be proud of despite those that knock our game at any opportunity but if I could change one aspect or suggest an improvement it would be the matchday experience for fans.
Currently I am enjoying a family holiday back home in Germany and Austria and at the time of writing I have already taken liberties with my very understanding wife and attended two Austrian Bundesliga games.
Last Saturday I checked in at the Goldstadion, home of our local team SV Grodig, a small provisional club with an average home attendance off less than 1000 fans. Unless a small miracle is on the horizon I fear Grodig will be relegated to the second tier of Austrian football after three seasons in the top flight. Despite their on-field problems off the park the Club is superbly run by a group of local businessmen with the well-being of their loyal fans high on their list of priorities.
Inside the compact stadium with views of the Untersberg mountain range dominating the skyline a group of about 100 passionate fans occupy a small section behind the goal in what is deemed as the singing section. This is a terraced area with the option to stand safely or sit.
When the stadium was recently upgraded the fans played a major role in the design and final placing of the said section. Those fans help create a memorable atmosphere while singing and waving mountainous flags throughout. Just outside the main stand sits the purpose built two-tiered VIP marquee. The club invested in this area in an attempt to offer the most loyal fans and dignitaries the very best hospitality. I was fortunate enough to experience the marquee and I have to say it is right up there with the best. For starters the food on offer was sensational with the attention to detail is as good as I’ve ever seen it.
It’s fairly obvious why the fans come back week after week despite the garbage on the pitch. The club will need to retain those fans if they are to go down but from where I am sitting I believe that will be the least of their problems.
This brings me nicely to the Red Bull Arena and Red Bull Salzburg. This past Saturday I was invited to the arena by my wife’s cousin to watch the Bulls take on Mattersburg. I have to say the whole experience was phenomenal from the moment we arrived right up until we negotiated our way back onto the autobahn to head home.
Talk about looking after the fans and making sure all who attend have a great time, simply brilliant.
Outside the stadium sits the ‘kids zone’ which for obvious reasons is self-explanatory. Before kick-off the younger fans can enjoy inflatable mini-pitches, target practice where prizes are up for grabs and be made to feel part of the team by having their photo taken in a life-size team line-up where they stick their head through a cut out.
You know the type those that frequents just about every seaside resort up and down the British coastline?
Everywhere you look portable bars and food stalls occupy the concourse with both home and away fans mixing without any bother.
Upon entering the stadium all fans are searched but instead of some heavy handed oaf hell bent on treating you like a criminal I was met by a smiling friendly chap who welcomed me to Salzburg and wished me a good afternoon.
How terribly refreshing!
Inside the stadium, the matchday presenter was already in full-flow on the pitch, I could not help but be enthused by his passion and presentation. He had the fans in the palm of his hand and most responded to the various chants and instructions. Like Grodig Salzburg also has a designated singing section directly behind the goal which bounced the entire time.
Just before kick-off the energetic flag-bearers who take their place in the singing section enjoy their own entrance to the type of razzmatazz you would expect at a movie-premiere not a football match. You will have to trust me when I tell you it blew me away, absolutely fantastic! Oh and by the way all fans stood and applauded them onto the pitch!
Getting back to the matchday presenter for a moment. I strongly advice all who hold the microphone in stadiums throughout the SPFL to invest in a trip to Salzburg to see how it should be done. Too many in my personal opinion don’t have the energy or the enthusiasm to deliver. I believe they play a very important role in lifting the fans and atmosphere. This can only be done if fans respond in kind.
Let me give you an example, when Salzburg scored the presenter boomed out the forename of the player, in this case Jonathan Soriano. The crowd then respond by shouting back the player’s surname. This was repeated three times with each one getting louder and louder. After the third time the presenter then boomed out the words “DANKE” (thank you) with the crowd then responding with the word “BITTE” (your welcome).
I witnessed this the first time when attending the Allianz Arena many years ago for a Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund game and could not help but join in. It did nothing but bring a smile to my face. To put this into perspective, the Red Bull Arena has a capacity of over 30,000, last Saturday only 6500 fans turned up but the atmosphere was on par as if the stadium was full to capacity.
Other points to note, the matchday programme is free and placed on every fifth seat. The away fans are housed in their own section of the stadium but not cordoned off from the home fans. Venders patrol the stadium selling pretzels, chocolate doughnuts and warm drinks which means you never really have to leave your seat to enjoy a snack and get this – beer is readily available both inside and outside the stadium with authorities trusting the fans to be responsible and act in an appropriate manner.
Imagine that eh, authorities placing their trust in the fans!!
We do so much right in Scotland, the fans continue to keep our football alive, and once again this past weekend per capita of the population Scotland sits number two in Europe for attendance. It’s an incredible effort for which we should all be very proud. But with that all said and done why not consider the Austrian and German attitude to fans, so much can be achieved by following their lead.
To finish this column off I mentioned to a prominent board member of SV Grodig the SPFL’s idea to introduce facial recognition software to stadiums in Scotland, his response – he laughed!
Ally Begg’s column is sponsored by Dolly Digital, a freelance Graphic and New Media Design Studio based in Aberdeen. Check out their Aberdeen FC-related products now.