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Fans would rather stay at home when Rangers and Celtic are in town, and that's not a good thing

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hislopsoffsideagain

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The reaction to St. Johnstone's decision to give three McDiarmid Park stands to Rangers and Celtic fans was somewhat mixed.

There was, for example, this piece from the Daily Record's Michael Gannon claiming that they were trying to 'make a quick buck' by exploiting the biggest supports in the country - because giving said supports more tickets is, apparently, 'exploitation'.

Especially when said tickets are £28 a pop. Sure, we'd all like to pay less for football tickets, but criticizing the price is rich given it costs only a quid less for away supporters at Celtic Park to watch from the infamous 'restricted view' seats that, in addition to watching their team getting pumped, give the spectator the treasured bonus of an acute case of torticollis.

However, plenty were pragmatic about it. Whilst few actually believed the Perth Saints' claim that temporarily shifting some fans so the home support was amalgamated in one area would help provide a 'partisan atmosphere' - there's no way that was written with a straight face - we're not talking small change here. Gannon claimed St. Johnstone would "trouser a couple of hundred grand which might fund a couple of players".

A couple of hundred grand would equate to about 5% of St. Johnstone's annual turnover. It's more likely to pay for four players than for two. It might be loose change for Scotland's largest two clubs, but it is a significant amount of money for a club of their size...and for at least half the clubs in the Scottish Premiership.

Gannon bizarrely suggested away fans should boycott Perth in protest. He did also briefly mention one of the reasons why St. Johnstone can, and need to, take this step - the fact that season ticket holders are dodging these matches.

Those are generally the most loyal supporters, and ones who have actually paid for their seats already. And yet they are eschewing the chance to watch the biggest and most talented clubs in the country take on their own side.

Imagine season ticket holders at Bournemouth and Watford deciding to skip the visit of Liverpool or Manchester City, or Getafe fans staying at home when Barcelona come to town. I attended a Middlesbrough-Manchester United match in 2008 where the visiting support took great joy in proclaiming "you're only here for United!" loudly. It was true too; my mate spent the whole game salivating over Paul Scholes and I over Wayne Rooney.

But St. Johnstone's fans are not the only ones turned off by the Gruesome Twosome. Other clubs have also noted their season ticket holders staying away in similar circumstances.

There are a few different factors at play here. One is that these games tend to have awkward kickoff times. Another is that no-one ever enjoys seeing their team get gubbed. After a few years where both Celtic and Rangers looked like potential scalps when you got them on your own patch, we've rewound to the days when, for example, Stephane Guivarc'h scored two in an 8-0 win for Dick Advocaat's Rangers...in Perth.

But that was never quite enough to keep folk away. Perhaps the star power of Brian Laudrup, Henrik Larsson etc. was worth the ignominy. Alfredo Morelos and Odsonne Edouard are talents but hardly in the same stratosphere.

And then of course there is the whole experience of having Rangers and Celtic fans in town.

Sure, they aren't the only ones to sing unpleasant songs, to invade the pitch, to set off flares, to throw objects, to damage the stadium.

But it only feels inevitable when it's one of those supports.

At Inverness (a place that neither club are likely to be visiting again in the near future) I've seen fans of both clubs drinking in the streets - Strongbow for Celtic fans, Buckfast for Rangers fans - urinating outside the ground (as if they don't think indoor plumbing has reached the Highlands yet) and have endured loud aggressive chants about killing people which have no relation to the actual match or opponent.

It is not a lot of fun.

So we've now reached a strange denouement where fans of other Scottish clubs are turned off by Rangers and Celtic, and yet the big two and the SPFL will cite the impressive viewing figures for their derby clash at the end of December as further evidence that, outside Scotland at least, they're the only clubs that matter.

Which is fair enough until they complain that no-one else wants to watch them...


Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly

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