I spent a nice few hours yesterday afternoon with some friends I’ve not seen for a while, and Celtic was one of the key topics of conversation.
We’ve not all had a beer together in over a year and the last time we’d all been due to meet up was towards the end of last season; the specific match was the one at Ibrox, which was the one who’s cancellation ushered in this bizarre world we’re in right now.
One of our number, regular contributor Matthew Marr, was unequivocal in stating that he would buy his season ticket no matter what. That’s commitment. Most of the others were less sure.
The real surprise was when we talked about the game last weekend; a couple of the lads hadn’t even bothered to watch it. I myself ended up doing so, but reluctantly.
Nobody looks forward to games any longer. One of the guys talked about how he’s not really enjoyed football since the lockdown, as he can’t shake the surreal feeling he gets watching matches on TV played in front of empty stands; the resemblance to pre-season friendlies which nobody cares about is just too stark. I understand that completely.
But I never expected to feel that way about watching Celtic … and yet I do.
Part of doing this is talking to fellow fans all the time, and the number of them who are angry is high. The number of them who have simply ceased caring this season is higher, and that’s alarming.
Even if they do buy season tickets they will do with no enthusiasm, but a growing resentment instead.
The club can repair some of the doubts with the right management appointment, but the longer it goes on the greater the feeling will grow that the club doesn’t care so why should we?
This crisis is now entering a dangerous phase, and I hope the club appreciates it.
Nobody wants to resent the football team they support.
Nobody wants to feel like the games we used to love watching have become a routine that our lives can do without, something we might not even miss if we were to shut them out completely.
It’s not just about the results. It’s about the way fans are treated by the club. It’s about the silence and the gnawing suspicion that at the end of it all there’s going to be an anti-climatic appointment which will fail to fire us up and create more uncertainty for the next campaign.
Fans have started to switch off. Every conversation now is about the manager or the goings on behind the scenes, and those conversations long ago became boring because they never get anywhere. Because nobody knows anything and all we have is the drone of the rumour factory in the background and a lot of people have shut that out as well.
Real apathy is a product of helplessness, and that’s how a lot of us feel right now; helpless. Sure, those of us who run the blogs have the attention of the club but how much does the club listen?
How much do those inside it care?
Fans are active and vocal on social media, but does any of it get through?
For a long time I’ve suspected that the board believes the online community are outliers and that the great Silent Majority of fans doesn’t feel the same intense emotion we do.
Let’s be real; to do this, to write blogs and to engage on Twitter and Facebook you have to feel more than the average fan who doesn’t … but are our views necessarily out of step with the rest of the support just because many tens of thousands of them don’t engage like this? There’s just no way to be sure, but I rather suspect not.
Indeed, the ability to write about the club and talk about the club every day, online, with many thousands of others is sort of empowering in normal circumstances.
You feel part of the family that way, part of the community, part of the greater body of the support.
I would imagine that the feeling of apathy and helplessness is even greater amongst the silent masses than they are amongst us.
How do they engage with the issues around the club?
Are they members of supporters buses, or engaged with the club through the shareholders group?
Or do they follow the club at some reserve?
Do they follow social media without necessarily participating?
Or, God forbid, do they get all their information about Celtic from the mainstream press?
The club faces a major challenge in getting a lot of the fan-base back on board.
That challenge is made 100 times worse by the global health crisis and its continuing impact on the club. It will be hard enough to sell season tickets if the new manager is unveiled and the fans are broadly satisfied with the name.
Because honestly, asking a household to buy three season tickets when only one of them is needed to watch it streamed on the season ticket pass would be difficult enough in an optimal scenario where we’d won ten in a row and everything was sweet.
The absence of that “extra value” in the last season ticket deal makes the pitch even tougher to make this time around. We’re at a critical point already, and the club looks a shambles.
Helplessness and anger. Apathy grows from these.
If the fans feel treated with contempt they no longer feel part of the club. If they don’t feel part of the club why should they continue to support it with money, especially at this most difficult time?
Anger was one thing; you need to care to feel anger.
You need to feel passionate about something to get angry about it. That feeling has gone in a lot of people, and they are left instead with a leaden emptiness, a lack of any emotion at all.
When that happens people stop watching games.
If that becomes a habit then we’re in real, real trouble. The club can still turn this around, but the longer they delay trying to the worst it is going to get. In the end, it’s this which will decide our future.