The attempt to generate capacity crowds for all five games going ahead in the SPL that day has registered on the football consciousness. It is an admirable experiment and deserves support. The question is this: what will it prove?
Everyone can agree on this much: any initiative to lure supporters back to football grounds is to be applauded. It's going to be refreshing to see a spike in attendances at the handful of top-flight games that weekend: Aberdeen v Ross County, Dundee v St Mirren, Hibs v Hearts, Inverness Caledonian Thistle v Kilmarnock and Motherwell v St Johnstone. If any Celtic or Dundee United supporters wish to do their bit they'll have to go somewhere as a neutral, because neither has a league game of their own. It's no accident that the second weekend of SPL games was chosen rather than the first. With Celtic opting to play a friendly against Real Madrid in Philadelphia, and Rangers in the wilderness, the motivation behind "Sell-out Saturday" was to deliver a resounding message that the rest of top-flight Scottish football can be attractive and popular. Or to put it another way: we can stand on our own two feet, thanks – we don't need the Old Firm.
Inevitably, this being Scottish football, even something built on that underlying sentiment remains inextricably wrapped up in Rangers and Celtic issues. It's going ahead in response to a summer in which supporters have felt unusually involved in the decision-making process. They piled pressure on their owners, chairmen and clubs to say "no to newco" and deny Charles Green's Rangers access to the SPL. Since then they've heard and read plenty of grave warnings about what a Rangers-less future will mean and they've seen Peter Lawwell, Rod Petrie, Stewart Milne, Stephen Thompson and others come out with the begging bowls, pleading with them to commit to season tickets. There will be plenty of fans who go to a game they would otherwise ignore on August 11, simply to show belated solidarity with their club's "no to newco" campaign. For those who made a fuss about it at the time, it's the least they can do.
Anyone who emailed, phoned, tweeted or posted on messageboards about sporting integrity being more important than the commercial benefit of Rangers' involvement – and Celtic fans did so more than any others – now has an obligation to put their hand in their pocket.
It will be deeply encouraging if August 11's games are witnessed by big crowds. There seems little chance of more than one of the five being close to an actual sell-out. The capacity of the grounds in use that weekend is a little over 75,000 and the average home crowds of the five home clubs was around 35,000 last season. An extra 40,000 turning up isn't going to happen.
The Edinburgh derby will surely fill Easter Road, but realistically the best the other host clubs can expect is a few thousand extra on the gate. Aberdeen fans have been especially active in promoting the day and a crowd of around 16,000 is expected for Ross County's visit to Pittodrie.
Rangers supporters – perceiving the whole thing to be a gesture against their club by the very fans who forced them all the way down to the third division – will mock "Sell-out Saturday" and belittle whatever attendances the other clubs attract. They would have taken enormous pleasure in hosting the country's biggest crowd of the day if they had a match at Ibrox, but they will begin their existence in the third division at Peterhead (capacity 4000). There is no prospect of the five top-flight attendances attracting much more than sneers from the Rangers support.
However, if the day is to have a lasting significance it won't be measured entirely on the figures for August 11. "Sell-out Saturday" should attract a few thousand on top of the hardcore support and help compensate for the loss of one or two home games against Rangers this season, but the real challenge will be to attract new fans or permanently re-engage many of those who have drifted away from Scottish football and found better things to do with their disposable income and leisure time.
Last weekend only 4500 turned up for Motherwell (featuring James McFadden) against Everton. McDiarmid Park had nearly 4000 empty seats for St Johnstone's first home European tie in 13 years. Only 20,000 bothered to show for Celtic against Inter Milan on Saturday.
It's a shame that there won't be much need for "full house" signs on "Sell-out Saturday" but crowds will be swollen and that will be a credit to The Away End, the fans' website which got the ball rolling in the first place and generated momentum via social media. The long-term task is to convert those who turn up for the novelty value of an unusual day.
And Another Thing -
When it comes to pointless exercises, there isn't much to match the effort being made by some to phase out the phrase "Old Firm". Hardliners around Celtic don't like it because they don't want any association with Rangers. Their equivalents around Rangers don't like it because they don't want any association with . . . well, you get the gist. They'll even talk about "the Glasgow derby" rather than you-know-what. Best of luck getting that one to catch on.
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