No-one tells a film-goer how many others are sitting in the cinema, and it is the same at concerts. At rugby, cricket, golf or other sports, the size of the crowd may be of some mild interest but the fact often goes unrecorded. Football has always been different. The most popular sport on the planet has a curious obsession with measuring its own appeal.
During the second half of most Clydesdale Bank Premier League matches a member of the home club's staff appears at the press box with a scrap of paper on which the day's attendance is written. This is handed to the closest reporter, who notes the figure and passes it on.
At some stadia the matter is even read out over the PA system, often to be met with applause. If the information is not so easily forthcoming a reporter will be heard asking colleagues "did we get a crowd?". It is an odd but essential little point of the day's statistics: score, scorers, teams, subs, bookings, ref - and attendance.
Even allowing for the long-established, traditional interest in how many people have bothered to turn up for a game, it has become a wearying obsession for some this season. Supporters of all the SPL clubs outside of Glasgow have suddenly noted an unprecedented level of interest in their popularity.
Celtic, and especially Rangers, fans have been poring over crowd sizes at games that don't involve them. Their analysis, predictably, reaches wildly diverging conclusions. Even more predictably, it's all about point-scoring over one another.
Rangers fans have interpreted modest attendances this season as proof that the SPL is an uninteresting waste of time without them. Rows and even whole blocks of empty seats at SPL games have suddenly been held up as some sort of indication of a league in tailspin. Unoccupied stands have been an unchanging backdrop at most grounds for years, if only they had noticed.
What glee they took over Celtic last week drawing only 14,737 against Raith Rovers in the Scottish Communities League Cup. Their own crowd of nearly 30,000 against Motherwell in the same competition the following evening was pretty much a match for the combined total from six games played on Tuesday, including Celtic's. They were certainly right to crow about that.
Putting spin on the significance of SPL attendances has been just as wearying from the other side, ie those – Celtic fans and some others – determined to "prove" how vibrant and healthy the division is without Rangers. Brash claims are made by either side when in fact the evidence is entirely unremarkable.
There is every reason to believe that SPL attendances will be down this season by no more, and no fewer, than the inevitable reduction caused by the removal one of the country's two best-supported clubs.
Rangers' usual 40,000-or-so home averages and 4000-or-so travelling supporters will be out of the equation and the eventual statistics will reflect that. In no other regard will Rangers' removal influence SPL attendances at any club other than Celtic.
What difference does it make to a supporter going to watch Kilmarnock-Dundee, or Inverness Caledonian Thistle-St Mirren, whether Rangers are in the league or not? So far this season Celtic have averaged around 45,000, Hearts 12,000, Hibs and Aberdeen 10,500, Dundee United 8500, and all the rest under 6000.
Even allowing for the fact the season is only a few weeks old and figures are skewed by derbies and Celtic's large travelling support having not yet visited all grounds, the numbers are settling into entirely predictable parameters.
Chairmen who yielded to fans' pressure to vote "no to newco" knew they were never likely to be rewarded with increased crowds to compensate for Rangers' removal.
Celtic's crowds will drop because Rangers' presence has such a direct impact on their league campaigns. The challenge from Rangers drives Celtic through every title race and imbues otherwise drab fixtures with significance and appeal, lest they drop points which allows their old rivals an advantage. Celtic's attendances will tail off if they have the league wrapped up and nothing to play for.
All the attention paid to SPL crowds has been misplaced. The only attendances worthy of note this season have been at Ibrox. Attracting around 45,000 for Irn-Bru Third Division games is absurd given the quality of football they're watching. This is the poorest Rangers team for 30 years and in 1981-82 their average home league attendance was 16,400, their lowest in living memory.
So what's happening at Ibrox? Some suggest some vague notion of "defiance" but there's more to it than that. Tickets are much cheaper this season, goals and home wins are all but guaranteed, there's a novelty value, anecdotal evidence suggests parents find the atmosphere more conducive to bringing children, and every home game amounts to a reassuring demonstration of strength from Rangers when they have been crippled in so many respects.
Will the novelty wear off? Winter and boredom will erode the enthusiasm, but to what extent? Simply by continuing to turn up they could achieve something far more creditable than the humdrum matter of winning the third division. Rangers could end up with the highest average crowds in Scotland. If they do, Celtic will never hear the end of it.
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