FOOTBALL’S return, albeit to TV, has been one big yawn. Perhaps it’s the overwhelming sense of apathy as players limp off, feeling a slight tightness in their man bun. But it’s more likely to be the absence of both fans and atmosphere. As Matt Busby and/or Jock Stein put it, football is nothing without fans.

Yet, for far too long the fan who pays to get in has been a second-class citizen. My late father and I were Aberdeen season ticket holders, hardly missing a home match for around 25 years. We looked forward to 3pm every second Saturday, but two things scunnered us. Firstly, those who get off their backsides and go to matches are less valued than those who watch in the pub or their own home. Monday kick-offs at 8pm are fine for those down the Dog and Duck, but not much good for those who travel to matches.

Secondly, we resented being treated as potential criminals. For decades my father took a small flask of tea as his half-time refreshment. Until the afternoon his flask was taken into custody by two police officers as it was, “a hard container that might contain whisky”. When I suggested this was a tad heavy handed with an 80-year-old, I was accused of obstruction and threatened with ejection. They were only doing their job, but nevertheless, it was galling to be near people drinking from proper cups and being served alcohol. We of course had paid to get in, they were beneficiaries of the “you scratch my back” scam, corporate hospitality.

Corporate hospitality is an anathema to those who pay at the gate. Roy Keane was spot on when he decried the ignorance of those he described as the “prawn sandwich brigade”. A few years back, I paid to watch a Scotland v England cricket match. On a post-lunch visit to the gents I found myself next to someone who had strayed from the hospitality area. He cheerfully admitted that he didn’t know the first thing about cricket, hadn’t seen a ball bowled and this was the first time he’d set foot outside the sponsor’s tent.

The Covid shutdown is a wakeup call to Scottish football and a reminder that 43% of its commercial revenue is from gate receipts; by far the highest percentage in Europe. No amount of parasitic corporate hospitality will plug that gap. Let’s hope Aberdeen chairman, Dave Cormack, is successful in improving the experience for those who pay to get in. Otherwise, the current turgid televised matches are a portent of the future, should ordinary fans find other ways of spending their time and money.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.