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Crowds up as the SPL fights back against armageddon


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http://www.theawayend.net/articles/features/1384-spl-attendances

 

By Andrew Southwick:

 

This season, Scottish football has developed a severe case of the mumpsimus. Arguably, two of our clubs have always had it bad, refusing to deviate from their old customs and sometimes bizarre notions, but this season it is spreading.

 

There are those that will refuse to listen to any evidence whatsoever that Rangers being out of the Scottish Premier League may be a good thing.

 

However, there are those that will point out armageddon is clearly not happening. Hearts are in trouble, but a trainee accountant could show the loss of Rangers has had little effect on their descent into turmoil.

 

The 12 team set-up hasn't worked for a long time, and the hope that Rangers dropping to the bottom tier of Scottish football would result in speeding up the process of overhauling the leagues now looks likely.

 

The better ideas appear to be coming from the Scottish Football League as opposed to the SPL who appear intent on trying to preserve four games a season, something that pleases only the television companies.

 

However, that is for the future. For now, a season that we feared at one point may never begin has been fantastic.

 

Firstly, the big story was Rangers going into division three. Their fans told everyone who would listen that working their way up is what they wanted, and in a peculiar way the fact their away form has been sketchy has probably improved their enjoyment. Where's the fun in being 12 points clear by the end of November after all - having to battle a bit, and watch their young players grow up on the road, has given 'Gers punters more entertainment than they thought they would get.

 

In the first division the head-to-head battle between Dunfermline and Partick Thistle has everyone watching. The Jags, so often the very poor brothers in Glasgow, are bidding for a league title and a place back in the big time.

 

It was a title fight that may never have happened though. Had Rangers been voted into the first division, which many pushed for, you would have expected Ally McCoist to be able to keep the bulk of his team while being able to prize even more names away from SPL clubs. With that, you would have expected them to romp the division, and with the absurdity of only one promotion place that would have left Jim Jefferies and Jackie McNamara with essentially a lost season. What do you play for when second place means exactly the same as 8th?

 

Then again, the way both have been playing this season, maybe they wouldn't have got everything their own way, in the same way the top of the third and top divisions have been tight. That only one of them will be promoted is a shame at a time when we could do with as many attack minded sides as possible.

 

Up in the SPL, it's been terrific fare. Celtic have set Europe alight with a fighting show in the Champions League, which has given Scottish football a much needed coefficient boost.

 

The upside of what they feel is no realistic title challenger is that they have set all their efforts on Europe, whereas before they were too busy looking over their shoulder. Finishing first in Glasgow can be more important than making your name in Europe.

 

Of course, with one eye on Europe, and a congested fixture list, the opportunity has been there for someone confident enough to take advantage. Step forward Hibernian, Aberdeen and St Johnstone who are all racking up the points, with all three looking at grabbing top spot in midweek.

 

With one of the Old Firm struggling, and the other half three divisions below, our other sides have able to put credible runs together, encouraging their supporters out of the woodwork.

 

Compare the stats from this season to last year's campaign.

 

There have been more goals this season, with an average of 2.72 per game compared to 2.58 at this stage last season.

 

The top goalscorers on 28th November 2011 were Gary Hooper alongside Rangers pair Nikica Jelavic and Steven Naismith on nine goals, followed by another Old Firm man Anthony Stokes on eight.

 

Heading into the midweek fixtures, it's a Hibs man leading the pack with Leigh Griffiths on 13 goals, Motherwell's Michael Higdon on nine and Aberdeen's Niall McGinn on eight. In fact, not a single Celtic player is anywhere near the most prolific.

 

But still those who said the SPL would suffer remain unconvinced. "The standard has fallen" apparently.

 

What are the fans saying? Well, you can twist them how you like. You can pick a Rangers home game, then compare the crowd to a day when Celtic aren't at home and the rest of the SPL crowds combined fall short, and scoff.

 

What point is being proved by Rangers still being a bigger club than eleven SPL teams is anyone's guess. Yes, we know Rangers are a big club, backed by a huge fanbase that stretches world wide. That was never going to change over summer.

 

Maybe if the Ibrox club go a decade without a trophy, the numbers will fall. Twenty years without silverware, maybe it falls again. How about thirty or forty years? What if winning a trophy becomes a once in a lifetime experience?

 

That's the sort of loyalty asked of all but a select few clubs in this country. Until you've experienced that, save us the chest thumping because fans spoon fed title triumphs, regular trips to Hampden, the Champions League and even a European final are still attached to the club after just a few months away from the SPL.

 

he way I prefer to look at the crowds, are not the numbers filling the away end at grounds, but the numbers coming through the home turnstiles.

 

Nine non-Old Firm clubs have been involved in this and last season's SPL. Here's how their crowds compare so far this season, and to the same stage of last season.

 

 

SPL average attendances compared 
Team 26th Nov 2011
26th Nov 2012
Hearts 13,841 12,712 (-1,129)
Hibernian 9,285 10,660 (+1,375)
Aberdeen 10,124 11,512 (+1,388)
Dundee Utd 7,009 8,709 (+1,700)
Motherwell 5,870 5,160 (-710)
Kilmarnock 5,725 4,899 (-826)
St Mirren 4,827 4,601 (-226)
St Johnstone 3,829 4,151 (+322)
Inverness CT 4,224 3,740 (-484)
     
SPL attendances without the Old Firm 
Team 26th Nov 2011 26th Nov 2012
Hearts 13,414 12,712 (-702)
Hibernian 8,823 10,660 (+1,837)
Aberdeen 8,838 10,426 (+1,588)
Dundee Utd 6,559 8,407 (+1,848)
Motherwell 4,538 4,398 (-140)
Kilmarnock 4,714 4,899 (+185)
St Mirren 4,627 4,400 (-227)
St Johnstone 2,907 3,726 (+819)
Inverness CT 3,455 3,403 (-52)

Conclusion? Well like I say, depends how you look at it. You can say that five of the nine clubs featured have seen their crowds drop overall, or you can say the average has gone from 7,193 to 7,349. Looking at the table for attendances without the Old Firm, the average has gone from 6,431 to 7,003.

 

Some people will argue Scottish football is still going to the pits because crowds are not the main income, TV money is, and that take away Rangers and Celtic and we'll still be in trouble.

 

Others may see that fans who don't support Celtic or Rangers are slowly coming back, enticed by seeing a tighter league.

 

Who knows, maybe we'll survive this armageddon after all. Then again, the Mayan calendar is counting down to December 21st...

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