How Hearts and Hibs fans have been both the winners and losers of the shutdown
Supporters have shown up those who ‘lead’ the game, writes Joel Sked
There has just been no let up. Statements, counter-statements, ‘Q&As’. Bullying, allegations, threats, accusations. Meetings, discussions, votes. Anger, frustration, self-interest. Schadenfreude, tribalism and so much more.
This is Scottish football 2020.
What we would all give for goals, sitters, fouls, red cards, the inaudible tannoys. Heck, even referees. Simply for that day to finally arrive.
The feeling you get when you wake up on a Saturday morning knowing it is game-day. The pre-match pint followed by the walk to the stadium. The squeeze through the turnstile and then the ascent. With every step you are getting closer to seeing the green grass open up in front of you. One step closer to the summit.
For supporters, these last 63 days - and counting - since the last competitive match was played in Scotland have been Everest.
This period has been the most tedious and tiresome in Scottish football’s history. Quite the feat considering what has gone on before. Whether it was the Rangers situation in 2012, or the countless summers of watching a World Cup or European Championship played without Scotland.
Yes, there have been some amusing moments, a wild statement there, a barb here and my personal favourite, the SPFL’s adoption of the belligerent ‘who the **** do you think you are speaking to’ tone. Some achievement to convey that in the written word, but then again they have had plenty of practice across the last two months.
Day after day, fans have simply rolled their eyes or let out a sigh with each statement as people within the game who shouldn’t really be on fans’ radar try to make themselves relevant.
There has surely been a time across these past 63 days where each of us have had a view along the lines of ‘what’s the point’. There is only so much glorification of idiocy that Scottish football fans can put up with.
As the bickering has ensued between the SPFL and some clubs, the players have pleaded to have their voice heard with a Scottish PFA poll showing wide support of league reconstruction. As for fans? Nothing.
‘Prisoners of faith’
We have had to sit back and watch the nonsense cascade, like a beautiful waterfall which has turned rotten and is now spewing out faeces. Sides have been taken by some, views entrenched as is the way now. Others have taken a step back ready to engage once more when football returns. Then there are those who will no doubt take a more permanent measure, sticking the ‘Vs’ up to the SPFL on their way out.
Supporters have largely been an afterthought, nothing new there. Seen but not heard. Speak only once spoken to. ‘Prisoners of faith’, to use a motto from a banner flung by the Lazio ultra group ‘Irriducibili’.
Yes, through all these trials and tribulations, we have all been losers. But at the same time, fans across Scotland can hold their heads high.
Go to Easter Road. You’ll find that more than 7,000 fans have snapped up season tickets despite not knowing when the 2020/2021 campaign will start and if they’ll actually be able to attend games in person due to the potential for closed door games.
Then there is the NHS tribute home shirt which has become the fastest selling in the club’s history.
Aberdeen, likewise, have recorded really strong ticket sales. At Hearts, more than 2,000 have been sold despite the uncertainty of which division they will be playing in, while supporters continue to support the Foundation of Hearts with more than £10.1million raised.
Livingston have witnessed an “incredible response” to their operating fund.
Motherwell fans have volunteered to deliver food parcels to vulnerable families in local areas, while the Celtic FC Foundation has raised an incredible £300,000 through its Football for Good Fund. It will “help those most in need in our communities through the current COVID-19 crisis”.
If you drop down further, Raith Rovers, through a JustGiving page, have raised over £53,000 through donations from fans and other clubs. The examples could go on and on.
It’s the fans who have been doing the heavy lifting. Not from a place of power, but passion. All the while those who are meant to be running the game have embarked on a path full of squabbles, puddles of tears and toys which have been discarded from prams by grown men.
Who knows what next season will bring and when that will happen, but fans - despite what the powers that be want to think - aren’t stupid. They understand that money for a season ticket isn’t solely about getting to attend games in return. It is an action of support. A donation which on its own isn’t much, but as a collective is huge, knowing fine well their team is undergoing a very difficult period.
It’s what they do and always have done. It’s the reason why clubs have taken advantage of fans for so long. Whether it is increased prices, making it difficult to buy tickets, treating supporters like children, stamping down on those trying to bring a bit of raucousness or personality to stadiums. Fans are simply expected to do what they have always done.
There is one thing the likes of Neil Doncaster, Murdoch MacLennan and those running the clubs should remember, as Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa expressed. "Everyone who is a part of this business that football has become is replaceable. The only people who cannot be replaced are you, the fans. The people who don't ask for anything in return, only emotions."
The fans have been the real winners out of this whole charade. And when football returns and supporters have reached their Everest, they should be treated as Kings, not paupers.