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Albion, Rangers, Rovers or Berwick – the conundrum of fan communication…

Date: 11th May 2019

They may have ended up holding the rest of their league up, but the Wee Rangers and the Wee Rovers have been an integral part of Scottish football for too many years. This year though has been a tough one. They have found themselves, towards the end of the season, reaching out to their fans in an attempt to make a final push a real push to stay in the SPFL.

Since the beginning of the season, despite a mid term change of managers, the most likely team to drop out of the Scottish Professional Football League was Albion Rovers. The denizens of Coatbridge have not had it good for a while and the move of Darren Young from manager at the Cliftonhill Stadium to Methil and East Fife seemed to be enough to make the drop appear inevitable; Young had provided, at least from the outside, some success and stability.

Fans may have been left wondering why Young left but there is no doubting his ambition. East Fife may seem like a strange place to go and test it but look at how Paul Hartley gathered the plaudits when taking “unfashionable” Alloa from the bottom to near their top. Perhaps the way in which Hartley’s career has developed is another learning point for Young…

The whole storyline took a twist because Albion Rovers got a three point bonus that came thanks to Clyde fielding an ineligible player which meant for Albion Rovers, 3 goals in the plus column, 3 points in the points column and plenty of column inches dedicated to the word survival; Clyde had their appeal against this turned down leaving Rovers points richer whilst the Bully Wee are no happy – their sense of injustice is real, though it may not have altered their league position in the end.

It is of little comfort that the team from Coatbridge ended up looking far healthier than the one team sitting below them who are now facing the drop; Berwick Rangers.

Yes, we are facing the possibility that for the first time in many, many decades that ALL the teams in the Scottish Professional League come from… well… Scotland.

The Wee Rangers have been a tremendous asset to the Scottish game with headlines like the humbling of the bigger Rangers in a cup tie from the ‘60’s being the most obvious. Fans of the club may wish they were much more than the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question, but they face an abyss; the Scottish Lowland League.

East Kilbride won the Lowland League but were, over two legs dispensed with by the Highland League champions, Cove Rangers – now in the promotion playoffs for a third time…

Today is the first leg of the final in the Highlands.

Whilst all of this brings nervousness and not a little trepidation, both Albion Rovers and Berwick Rangers have been making moves to connect with their fans – after all they have needed them.

It has not always gone smoothly though, and Berwick seemed to be courting the wrong type of publicity when they ended up sacking their volunteer Twitter account administrator…

It appears that the Twitter guru and social media volunteer at Berwick, fell foul of the club hierarchy because he happened to tweet about a touchline spat between Johnny Harvey, boss at Berwick and the Cowdenbeath manager, Gary Bollan.

When Declan O’Kane got sent off for Berwick, there seemed to be a debate around the dugout that got its way onto the official club Twitter. Instead of updates on, on field antics, the official club organ of communication took an interest in the reporting of an off field spat.

Interestingly this single tweet gathered 22,000 likes and was retweeted over 8,000 times. Imagine if each one of these gave the club a quid for their player fund…

It left fans without any updates on Twitter.

It left fans nervous about finding out – because League Two games do not get any form of decent live coverage – about their favourite team; it was perhaps the wrong time to be left without any communication.

Given the place in which they found themselves, it may seem an odd way to keep your fans onside.

Was it the right course of action to take, given what was tweeted – I don’t think so but it gave them some deflection from the perilous state of their position in the SPFL so maybe it was the right thing to do?

To be fair to Berwick there had also been an attempt to do something different…

It was not the open meeting in the 30th March, nor imminent regime change with the Chairman stepping down, nor the opportunity to invest in the club which is available online or the news that the replica strips now have 25% off in the club shop.

It was something very different.

The manager invited a fan into the dressing room to address the players. Now you would struggle to get anything more direct in fan’s contact than that…

On Pie and Bovril, the fan who was invited into the dressing room, told of his experience thus, “I was not sure though what I would witness in the dressing room. As I approached the room there were certainly a lot of words being spoken.  What I saw in there was a lot of hurt, frustration and passion t  find some solutions. There was no reluctant acceptance of what had happened, there was a lot of soul searching going on. The team listened to my thoughts of what it means to be a Berwick fan and what it means to me and the others on the terracing at Annan, Berwick or wherever. My first recollection of being at home or away was cheering on Gordon Haig, must have been 1966 or 1967. No matter that’s an aside.  The supporters at Annan were upset. That was magnified though many times in that dressing room. However, I looked players in the eye and they looked back at me. They did not hang their heads in shame or sadness they looked straight back at me. As a supporter I could not ask for more than that. A defeated team would have avoided eye contact. This is not a defeated team, angry and frustrated yes, defeated no.”

Angry and frustrated they may have been, but they are now facing relegation…

As for Albion Rovers, the Chair and Financial Director took a more traditional route and sat down with the local paper and made statements to communicate “directly” with their fans. They covered topics including survival post relegation, if it had happened, the future of the club, the budget for staff, the stadium and why they made a mistake at the beginning of the season with the manager’s appointment and hoping Junior players could step up.

As an exercise in openness and honesty it wasn’t half bad; but was it effective? It was hardly innovative.

Albion Rovers have clearly survived. Berwick Rangers hope to be the Houdini of this year. For both though, the fans will be needed for next year; will they tweet their approval or applaud the survival – worth tuning in to find out…

The second leg is a week on Saturday so it won’t be long before plans for next year and whichever league they are preparing their fans for shall be sorted for the Berwick Board.

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