Time to change football – Gerry Farrell

Date: 21st October 2015

Here is Gerry Farrell’s recent article in the Edinburgh Evening News, speaking about the need for clubs to stop treating fans like consumers and the need to join together to change our game.

Courtesy of Hibs Community Foundation, everyone who took part in our Big Autumn Clean-up was given free tickets to Hibs v Dumbarton. My wife graciously agreed to come along and finally popped her Hibs cherry, so to speak.

She laughed every time I got angry even though I’d previously explained that football was primal scream therapy for men. She was absolutely in kinks when I went for a pee and missed the first two goals. She did, however, join in with “Glory, Glory To The Hibees” and found her first time at the football “mildly entertaining”.

What struck me most though was the enjoyment of all the other mums, dads and kids who came along to a game for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed the whole occasion, from the bombastic X Factor-style music at the start to the ten-second challenge where tiny tots try to score a goal against a man dressed up as a lynx. Leith Lynx, geddit. None of those families would have given it a go if it wasn’t for those free tickets.

It’s good to see that Hibs are now allowing themselves to become a little more engaged with their local community. For five or so years, they did very little but keep their distance. I think the men in Crombie coats who run football clubs have forgotten that we aren’t just fans, we are their customers.

How often at a football match do you feel as if you are being treated like a customer? It costs £25 to get in, for a start. That’s at least £5 too much. I was talking to Paul Goodwin of the Scottish Football Supporters Association this morning and he told me about an initiative he’d like to get going, called Twenty’s Plenty – in other words no club should be charging its customers any more than 20 quid to watch a game, especially a game in the Scottish Championship.

I certainly don’t feel like a customer either when I go to buy a pie. £2.50 for a steak pie is daylight robbery. The clubs know they can get away with silly prices for food and drink – they have a captive audience. When I go to the toilet, I don’t feel like a customer either; although the facilities are a massive improvement on the bad old days of the Sixties and Seventies, the toilets at Easter Road are cold, concrete and basic. They don’t have to be but they are. With a little imagination and not a lot of money, they could be made colourful and comfortable, with a live commentary piped in and, at the very least, hot running water.

I don’t just bleed green, I’m also green with envy at what Ann Budge has done with the Foundation of Hearts. Heart of Midlothian has put itself literally in the heart of its community. It is genuinely owned by the fans and they feel like they have a say in the running of their club. This kind of progressive transformation needs to happen at every football club in Scotland. Football fans acting together represent a powerful constituency – look at how the blazers trembled when they wanted to bend the rules and let Rangers stay in the SPL for cold, commercial reasons. Fans from clubs all over Scotland threatened to stop buying season tickets and the powers-that-be, those committee men in boardrooms and blazers, caved in.

If we work together we can reclaim our game from the prawn sandwich brigade. The last thing they want to do is listen to advice from football fans. But honestly, what has the Scottish Football Association done to create real change in the game over the last decade? The answer is a very appropriate three-letter acronym: SFA. So let’s get our voices heard. Join the Scottish Football Supporters Association at www.scottishfsa and tell them what changes you’d like to see.

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