The news today that the SPFL clubs are getting ready to vote on a minimum guaranteed allocation for away fans is excellent, and it proves that all of our complaints and all of our articles and all of our drum banging on this matter has gotten through to the people that matter. Fan voices have been raised angrily against this trend, and it has paid off.
But before we get too self-congratulatory and celebrate a victory, we need to be sure that a victory is actually what we have here, and that’s still up in the air. Because there’s a lot can happen between now and that vote being held, including some grubby face-saving deal from the so-called “governing body” to fudge this and let people off the hook.
The vote will not take place until January.
I very much doubt that any changes will come into force before next season.
That means that nothing changes between our club and the one across the city in the meantime. We will not be going to Ibrox. They will not be allowed at Celtic Park. They made that bed, and for the moment are doomed to sleep in it.
In many ways, they unleashed this chaos on us all.
It is fitting, it is right, it is appropriate, that they should have to deal with some of the blowback. And in fact, the blowback might be greater for them than for any other club as any minimum allocation guarantee will affect their stated policy of having sold season tickets for parts of the ground once allocated to away fans.
It was a moronic act, and if this rule passes, they will have to answer to their own supporters.
Celtic, in the meantime, will simply apply the rules which many season ticket holders already understand and respect, because the season ticket comes with the caveat that a certain pair of matches aren’t covered by it, and you have to buy those tickets separately.
But those fans (and I’m one of them) might find that any rule change doesn’t give us the opportunity to buy those tickets if an Ibrox fan is seated in our place. I don’t think that will happen, but it could and everyone in that section is aware of that. The thing is, we’re all going to have to give something up. Each club is going to have to make sacrifices here.
That’s where I worry that some of them – perhaps even enough of them to defeat the vote – might decide to act selfishly, the one from across the city included. It’s why some outlets this morning think that some backroom deal will be done instead, one that doesn’t actually put a set number in place.
That would be pushing this crisis down the road again, and would be an absolute disaster in light of what needs to be done.
And yet, I’m optimistic although for this to truly matter we’d need a bigger allocation guarantee than what is currently available at UEFA. To have any meaningful impact, it would need to be set at 10% or even 15% before it would return us to anywhere close to the place we were before Ibrox unleashed this chaos.
10% would restore 5000 of our Ibrox allocation. 15% would restore it all.
At Tynecastle, where a mere 700 of our fans will be in attendance, a 15% allocation guarantee would give us 3000 tickets again. That’s a single stand, that’s actually less than what they give Hibs, so that number lands squarely in the zone where we’d want it to be.
One objection raised in the media this morning is actually a straw man argument; that Celtic (and the other lot) might object because that means we’d have to offer Motherwell, Hearts, Hibs and other clubs the same guaranteed percentage of tickets … theoretically, yes, but it wouldn’t work that way as everyone who understands this stuff is well aware.
Away clubs buy tickets for their fans based on a realistic number who are willing to travel to games.
No side in the SPFL but one is going to come to Celtic Park and want 7000 tickets.
They wouldn’t sell close to that to their own fans and so they’d be pissing their own money against the wall in taking their full allocation, and none of them can afford that.
The “minimum allocation” figure exists to give your fans a guaranteed number of tickets for games if you can sell them … the same way it works for matches at Hampden.
The word if is the crucial one, and so it’s really not something I ever expect to be a problem for us.
No, Celtic will support a policy like this and a number like that … it’s the other clubs that I’m concerned about, and what they might do.
This is why I am concerned that some shady deal will be done before it gets to a vote.
Some fudge compromise figure of 8% or something will be proposed and accepted and whilst we’ll be further on from where we are now in some respects, in others not so much.
It’s 4000 tickets for La La Land and that’s more than they ever wanted us to have, but it’s not a return to where we were and that figure gives us only 1600 tickets at Hearts, 1200 for Rugby Park and so on.
Of course, some of the clubs in the league already give us in excess of 8% and they would continue to do that, I’m sure … but something over 10% would get us closer to a time before all this madness began and 15% would virtually take us the full way and guarantee away fans the equivalent of one stand in every Scottish ground where they could sell the allocation.
That’s a vastly better situation than the one we’re in right now, where all you read over and over again is about how much clubs are willing to cut the number of tickets they give to away supporters.
Not all of them can even claim – as some have – that they are doing it to prioritise their own fans; some of them have done it in an effort to weaponize the lack of regulations for what they perceive to be a narrow sporting advantage.
And in many ways, I get that.
It can’t be easy as a manager or chairman, or even as a fan, to see your “home game” packed out with away fans … but the onus is on your fellow home supporters to turn out for games, you can’t penalise travelling fans because they are willing to show up, or because you think it gives you some modest percentage increase in your ability to get something from the game.
That’s just taking advantage of lax governance and that’s what needs to be changed.
It is not the only concern clubs have.
I have been on the message board of Hearts, Hibs, Aberdeen, Motherwell and other clubs and seen what some of their other objections are. Most of them simply do not want “Old Firm” fans – their phrase, not mine; everyone knows exactly how I feel about that – in their grounds because they don’t want subjected to a 90-minute karaoke of IRA chants or the vile sectarianism and bigotry from across the city and that’s to name but two objections.
Once again, I completely understand their position.
Don’t be surprised, therefore, if any new regulations over a minimum away allocation also come with a code of conduct, so that if, say, a home crowd has to endure a sectarian hate-fest from the Peepul, complete with the old “fenian blood” ethnic cleansing anthem they can warn the away club that they intend to file a report with the SPFL and will cut the allocation for the next game.
Motherwell, right now, are considering cuts to Celtic’s allocation for Fir Park in light of events at the game we won there recently.
Those events include – but are not limited to – two pitch invasions by our supporters. There is also, separate from that game, the ongoing situation involving flares and smoke bombs.
A code of conduct cannot be ruled out in light of that.
As I said, the most likely outcome here is that everyone will have to give something up.
That’s credible. That’s sensible. That’s fair.
The home clubs do have concerns, and those concerns will have to be taken seriously and will have to be resolved … and if they are the away match experience stands a good chance of returning to something closer to what it was.
Without a guarantee of some kind, we really are facing hard times here and the possibility that the away day in Scottish football is going to die out completely.
That will have social and economic impacts that we can only guess at … and of course, it’ll take our game down with it.
A compromise is fine … but we cannot allow a sell-out.
A hard number should be agreed on, and it should be put to a vote. Let those who want to oppose it defend their stance, with their own fans as well as with ours.