Scottish football fans have it tough. The hyper-fashionable English Premier League diverts eyes, revenue, and quality players to the south, and with them, undeniably, has gone some of the match day verve from grounds north of the border.
We’re not alone in the shadow of football’s billionaire class, European Football’s ‘have-nots’ form the majority. Bar a few exceptions in France, Turkey, and Russia, riches are confined within Europe’s four darlings: England, Spain, Germany and Italy.
As we in Scotland struggle for relevance next to the English Premier League, local butchers succumb to supermarkets, and family-owned pie shops are out-baked by Greggs, Czech Football contends with the mighty German Bundesliga. The Scottish and Czech leagues’ competitive and financial struggles are identical, so why such lifelessness in Scottish stadiums while certain Czech clubs maintain a carnival-like atmosphere?
Leaving Scotland behind and heading into Czech Football through the turnstiles of First League side Bohemians 1905 strikes you with a now foreign footballing experience; 5 ways Scottish Football fans are given a raw deal on match day become very clear.
1 – The Criminalisation of Fans
Feigning control, stewards and police combine to micro-manage Scottish crowds, treating spectators as potential criminals. If you stand, you’ll be told to sit, if you try to bring a flag, you may be asked to ditch the pole, if you hesitate en-route to the toilet to catch some action, you’ll be ushered along, all while a cop films your criminal intentions.
In areas of Bohemians Ďolíček Stadium you will be on your feet singing for around 100 minutes. No, Czech matches are not longer, but people choose to linger in the ground beyond the final whistle to milk the experience and it’s addictive atmosphere for all it is worth.
Early in the game, two or three fans will raise green flares. As thousands sing the club anthem, glaring sunlight is replaced in the air by plumes of the team’s colour. It’s energising, and the spectacle sets the tone both on and off the pitch for the rest of the match.
Flares can be dangerous and are banned throughout Europe, but they’ve crept into Scottish Football recently as fans of Celtic and Rangers in particular, seek to replicate scintillating atmospheres from the continent.
Few people would condone the use of flares, but the difference between criminalising their presence and closely monitoring their use is an insight to the respective attitudes of Scottish and Czech football authorities toward supporter behaviour.
2 – The Paltry Winter Break
Czech football hibernates for two months starting mid-December. You’re just as likely to be drenched and frozen at the Ďolíček in March, but the break offers fans eight weeks of respite from harsh wintry conditions.
The Czech first league plays eight fewer matches than the SPL which provides leeway for a lengthy rest, but the far-reaching benefits of having a substantial break make it worth shoehorning into the season. In addition to softening winter for the fans, the break is invaluable for grounds staff.
In recent seasons, certain pitches in the Scottish top-flight have been unfit for rugby. It damages the aesthetic appeal of our game, and any potential for attractive football is lost.
Braving rotten weather conditions to watch a brand of football tailored to an impossible playing surface doesn’t make for pleasant viewing. Surely fans would favour a longer hiatus than the two-weeks earmarked for next season?
3 – The Alcohol Ban
Scottish Football is a rallying ground for the UK-wide demonisation of alcohol. Fans north of the border have been drying out on the terraces ever since the 1980 Scottish Cup Final between Celtic and Rangers. Alcohol drags the blame for a riot which was rooted more in the nasty presence of socio-political tensions than the effects of alcohol.
Alcohol laws in the Czech Republic, as well as in Germany, where attendance figures and atmosphere are second to none, are famously liberal. Your pre-match round buying system will flow seamlessly into Bohemians’ stadium; in ‘the boiler’ behind the goals, there are three beer-selling counters where prices are on a glorious par with those elsewhere in Prague.
From the NFL to the Czech First League, fans watch their team with a beer in hand. Yet, this is criminal behaviour in Scotland, where the ridiculous ban encourages fans to load up in the pub before heading for the aridness of their stadium.
Watching sports with beer and friends is a globally celebrated custom that could help reinvigorate Scottish football.
4 – The Inflated Cost of Concessions
At £4, the average cost of a tea-n-pie combo in the Scottish top flight is only thirty-pence shy of Bohemians’ actual ticket price. While comparing pies to tickets is assuredly an issue of apples and oranges, the comparison captures the extra rationalisation Scottish fans go through to justify heading to the football.
For the Bohemians faithful, tickets, the beer and Czech sausage are so reasonably priced and delightfully affordable that no guilt or resentment tinges their experience. Lunching with friends or going to the cinema are as expensive, so there is no incentive for fans to avoid the football.
In Scotland, there’s an abundance of more affordable Saturday-afternoon alternatives; struggling to justify the cost of supporting your team sullies the experience from the get-go.
5 – The Ticket Price
Scottish football is in chronic denial over the correlation between overpriced tickets and shoddy attendances. Bohemians 1905 spluttered into mid-table in 2015/16 and their brand of football was by no means designer. There was little for the Bohemka to shout about, yet a £62 season ticket lures them out en masse.
From the Celtic supporting grandfather who takes his Aberdeen fan grandson to the nearby Caley Stadium, to the Hibs season ticket holder, fans across the country lament the cost of tickets. For some, it’s top priority when budgeting, but for a horde of others the expense is unjustifiable. It’s telling that an average of 42,000 seats sat empty every week in the Scottish Premiership last season.
Bohemians play for raucous sold-out crowds in a stimulating atmosphere. Every footballing head appreciates the significance of a home support and the unrivalled pleasure of an electric atmosphere, so it’s perplexing that Scottish clubs continue to price themselves out of an energetic backing.
Accusations of self-pity against Scottish Football are not wayward. Passively accepting our inferiority to English Football lowers the bar in Scotland. Clubs and governing bodies mustn’t accept mediocrity when there is so much they can do to raise standards for loyal supporters.
Written by Scott McLean