A return to the familiarity of club football this weekend will help steal focus from the trauma that has accompanied the national team in recent months, yet the shortcomings of Scottish football will still be seen plainly as there is little else to divert your attention. Well, apart from the brief thrill of the half-time draw.
Even then that costs extra; the price of a match ticket in this country entitling you to a seat from which to watch the fitba' and the privilege of shouting, cheering or snoring your way through the game of your choice. Given some clubs in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League will now ask fans to fork out as much as £38 for a seat in the main stand – the sliding scale of prices only creeps as low as £18 for adults – it can seem as though the loyalty of fans is somewhat undervalued by the clubs they devote their weekends to, and beyond, depending on the severity of the result. It is the equivalent of having the replica shirt taken off your back.
Fans continue to squeeze through turnstiles, of course, and in the last full fixture card 43,548 supporters attended games in the Premier League, a figure skewed somewhat by the fact Celtic played away. But, despite the absence of Rangers making such figures appear more relevant to some, the matter of attendances is only part of a wider issue.
In the United States, soccer fans get a lot more bang for their buck, although admittedly that might have something to do with their fondness for fireworks.
There is a need to tread carefully in a country where it seems every sporting event is gleefully dubbed the 'greatest show on Earth' but there is no doubting their efforts to match the rhetoric. Soccer continues to grow in the States and its popularity owes much to the universal understanding among clubs that fans are there to be entertained, and not just by the players whose faces are displayed on the giant screens.
Matches in Major League Soccer are played out amid a carnival atmosphere, with competitions conducted for young fans before kick-off and goals sending confetti raining down in the stands. At Portland Timbers – where Kris Boyd now plays – a successful strike is marked by a segment being cut from a 'victory log' at the side of the pitch.
That may well be used as kindling for the cynicism which sometimes pervades the Scottish game, but it is all in the name of entertainment. Prosaic initiatives in this country, such as lowering gate prices for the odd game, are fine for getting a few extra fans along, but more needs to be done to encourage them to stay.
"It's important that all of our clubs have a deep connection with their supporters' groups," says Howard Handler, the chief marketing officer at MLS. "Success is built on the understanding that the supporters are an integral part of the MLS soccer experience, a part of the sport's DNA. It is not just about security. Clubs work hard to create an environment that encourages the development of supporters.
"Some examples are: clubs partnering with supporters' groups on local civic projects, e.g. Timbers Army and a tree-planting program; working with supporters groups to be a part of the match presentation, e.g. Real Salt Lake with clubs chants and songs, and providing supporters groups with special tailgate areas.
"We also have clubs, including supporters' groups, in key club initiatives. The Cascadia Cup is a supporters' initiative that the three clubs [Timbers, Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps] have worked to support via promotion. When it comes to the pre-game experience, our clubs work closely with the league and team sponsors to create environments with engaging activities that will appeal to all fans."
Not all of those initiatives would translate into Scottish football, but none of them trivialises the result of the match either. Losing hurts, no matter what continent you are on.
It is the same in Japan. The football culture in the Far East is perhaps more traditional than in the States, but it remains well ahead of Scotland. It can often feel like there is a barrier which exists between many clubs in this country and their fans, that their loyalty is somewhat feudal and is passed down through generations. In Japan, far more is done to foster links between a club and its supporters.
"When I was manager at Montrose there were monthly players' awards, but that happens all the time in Japan – player of the month, goal of the month, awards from supporters before games," says Steven Tweed, who became a cult figure during two years at Yokohama Marinos and also spent time playing in Germany and Greece. "I've not seen them over here for a while, there doesn't seem to be a monthly interaction with supporters.
"In Germany, we used to have supporters coming to watch us in training every day, and in Japan as well. Training was always open and you could come and sit and watch players working, but I've not seen anyone come to watch that at any teams I've played for in Scotland, unless they were doing a SFA course. Nor England, for that matter."
There are exceptions, but these only endorse the positive effect that engaging with fans properly can have for a club. When Neil Lennon delivered the line "this is just the beginning" to those inside Parkhead shortly after missing out on the title last year, the Celtic manager was met with scenes of adulation. Fans will have been sore that a championship was being celebrated across the city, but that was abated as their manager was addressing them directly.
That interaction was valued by fans. Clubs would do well to see them the same way.
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