Stephen McIlkenny: Why I’m finished with the Tartan Army

And it's nothing to do with the abject performances on the park. Picture: SNS
And it's nothing to do with the abject performances on the park. Picture: SNS
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There is no doubt that Scotland fans are among the best international fans in the world, and for years it is something I have proud to be a part of. However, unless drastic changes are made, this campaign will be my last.

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The reason has nothing to do with the horrendous start to the current campaign or anything to do with my interest in following Scotland in some capacity. That has never wavered. My decision comes following the constant disrespect shown to fans of the national side and the extortionate prices charged by those in charge at the SFA.

At the start of the season, fans were given the option to join the Scottish Supporters Club (SSC) for £55 (plus booking fee of course) to benefit from ‘discounted’ tickets and to guarantee their place at every game of the campaign at Hampden. Many fans backed the team and paid up for the campaign as Scotland aimed to end twenty years of qualification heartache.

Fans, like myself, renewed in blind faith before ticket prices were revealed by the SFA. However, many were left aghast when the true cost was revealed. Five match packages for £125 in the East or West Stand or £180 the North and South stand gave fans that had paid £55 a whopping £3 discount on every game. Supporters who had loyally paid their hard-earned cash for membership of the SSC had guaranteed themselves a seat at Hampden but found themselves £40 down on a non-member with just a SSC shirt to prove it.

While the five game packages were only available to members of the SSC, the ridiculousness of the pricing truly hit home following a quick look at the individual breakdown of the prices. To watch Scotland take on a team ranked 163 in the world, Scotland fans that had forked out for a membership were expected to pay at least £17. The same game would cost members of the public £20. For the salivating match against the Auld Enemy, how were loyal fans rewarded? With a ticket price of either £42 or £57. For other games, such as the home tie v Slovakia or Lithuania the price was a whopping £37 for the prime seats.

On top of a membership cost, I fail to see how these prices are rewarding fans who have been through so much with the national side. Under the current pricing it is better value for money for those who have paid for a membership to miss one game than go to all five and support the team. Fans would save money by not going to what should be a non-contest against Malta. Even without a £55 membership how is this an incentive to watch Scotland?

Fans may always show for big games, but in the past it has been the ‘smaller’ games against the likes of Serbia and Wales that have cost us. A full, bouncing Hampden benefits everyone, yet with extortionate prices for smaller games, the SFA make it all but impossible to accomplish. Furthermore, the SFA clearly have not learned from their mistake when they over-priced the game against Gibraltar which resulted in thousands of tickets being given away for free.

I adore watching and supporting Scotland but I am continually finding it more difficult to back an organisation that is so out of touch with fans. Why should supporters pay through the nose for an overpriced shirt to wear to an overpriced game in a stadium that offers some of the worst views in European football? It’s a scandal, and by going to the games and by paying for memberships and tickets we are only feeding the problem.

I do understand that the growing expense is just part of the modern game, however, it also seems that after seasons of failure and misery Scotland fans deserve to have a organisation that is supportive to the fans and is not cashing in on national pride.

The changes from the SFA do not have to be drastic. I am fully aware that rugby fans and other supporters often pay more for less with the typical 6 Nations game costing around £60 in Scotland, but is a £3 discount the best our SFA can offer? Surely a free programme for members each game or a food voucher for Hampden could be an easy way to give fans a slightly better value for money experience? Why not offer the game against the pot 6 team as a ‘free ticket’ for members rather than arranging a discount friendly?

It is time that the SFA began to repay the fans that have invested so much time, effort, support and money. It is time that those who follow the side are rewarded for their support. I believe that Scotland fans can take defeat, can rally through difficult times and can continue to back the side. It is time the SFA began to show their appreciation for football fans, rather than holding them to ransom in the name of patriotism.

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