Top of the pile are Hearts, who have had good reason to officially communicate due to managerial changes and stadium redevelopments. They have a sizeable lead on 15 statements. Next in the list are Aberdeen on ten. Again, they’ve had ample opportunities to bring out the quill, what with a new ground on the horizon and the courting of their manager, Derek McInnes, by other clubs throughout the campaign.
After last night’s communication from Rangers in response to Hibs cutting their ticket allocation for the final game of the season, Rangers have moved into the European spots, joint third with Partick and Hamilton on nine statements.
This has been the year of the statement in the SPFL. Across the 12 top-flight clubs, 79 have been released since the start of the 2017/18 campaign. We’ve had Hearts owner Ann Budge keeping us up to date with Tynecastle’s main stand. Hamilton Accies releasing angry Greek players, Rangers’ use of the word “concomitant” after their failed pursuit of McInnes and Partick Thistle paying tribute to the late John Lambie.
And then, just after 10pm yesterday, we had another memo from Ibrox, this time complaining about the fact Hibs will only give them just under 2000 briefs for a potential second-place showdown at Easter Road.
As a reminder, here is what the Rangers PR machine churned out.
“Rangers notes Hibernian’s decision to cut our supporters’ ticket allocation for the final match of the Scottish Premiership season at Easter Road on Sunday, May 13,” the statement began.
“First and foremost Rangers hopes the safety of our fans, who will now be in only one section of the South Stand rather than filling it completely, will not be compromised by this decision, which beggars belief.
“This is the least Rangers expects for supporters who have repeatedly proven themselves to be the most loyal in the country by selling out away ticketing allocations at opposition stadiums for years.
“This was evident as we rose through the divisions when clubs the length and breadth of the country, including Hibernian, benefitted financially from the presence of our fans.
“Rangers will of course bear in mind Hibernian’s decision when considering ticketing arrangements for future matches – both home and away – against this particular club.”
Let’s put this situation into context. Hibs normally give Rangers the whole of the South Stand, which has a rough capacity of 3900, when they come to Leith. In seasons gone by, Hibs haven’t been able to sell out the West, East and North Stands, but this is no normal season. Hibs are flying under Neil Lennon and more than two weeks before the match, the three aforementioned stands are sold out as Hibbies anticipate a genuine chance to seize second place in the top flight for the first time since 1975.
Understandably, Hibs are keen to accommodate as many of their own fans as possible. They decided to open up seats in the South Stand for sale yesterday, effectively cutting the away support allocation in half. Already, tickets are selling fast. It would be no surprise to see them sold out by the start of next week.
That leaves Rangers with just under 2000 seats for the match. Of course, they’d be able to attract many more supporters than that. There will be disappointed fans who won’t get in for what could be a tremendous match. However, Hibs are entirely within their rights to house as many of their own as they can. It’s their stadium, their match to host. On that basis, Rangers’ gripe is baseless.
Rangers’ statement goes on to addresses the matter of safety at Easter Road.
“We hope the safety of our fans, who will now be in only one section of the South Stand rather than filling it completely, will not be compromised by this decision, which beggars belief,” it read.
Beggars belief? Hardly. The South Stand at Easter Road is structurally designed to be split so it can house two separate sets of supporters. As is the case with all category A matches, the ground will be policed and stewarded accordingly. Hibs fans will enter the stand from the east end, while Rangers will enter from the west. It’s almost impossible to guarantee there won’t be any issues, but Hibs will put the best safety procedures in place. And, as an aside, Hibs have put home fans in the South Stand for the majority of matches this season apart from the visits of Hearts, Celtic and, until now, Rangers. Aberdeen had 1900 fans in February and everyone emerged from the ground unscathed.
Hearts have also halved the away end - the Roseburn Stand - in previous seasons when demand from home supporters has outstripped supply. Rangers weren’t happy about that either, but nobody got hurt.
Rangers’ statement also insinuates that they merit a larger-than-normal away support because their fanbase is the “most loyal in the country”. Again, what utter codswallop. Rangers have a strong travelling support, but there have been times over the past few years when parts of Ibrox have resembled a blue sea of empty seats. In fact, when Hibs visited Rangers during their years in the Championship, the club were denied extra away tickets despite the home end in Govan being half full. When Hibs defeated Rangers at Ibrox on February 13, 2015, 29,769 people were there to witness, comprising of 900 Hibs fans. Twenty-thousand seats were left vacant.
The final sentence of Rangers’ statement suggests they will review tickets for visiting Hibs fans next season. Apart from Celtic, away fans at Ibrox get 900 seats, pocketed away in a corner of the stadium, surrounded by home fans. It’s hard to see what more they can do to reduce numbers for Hibs fans. The Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) rules state that “the home club must make provision for the admission of such reasonable number of visiting supporters at every home league match and play-off match”, so cutting Hibs’ allocation from an already meagre amount may seem a tad fanciful. On that front, however, time will tell.
This latest chapter in the Hibs-Rangers story just continues a dramatic tale. Since the Glasgow club’s rise through the leagues following liquidation in 2012, the two have clashed. They were rivals in the Championship for two seasons. Hibs trounced them 4-0 at Easter Road, but then Rangers battered the Hibees 6-2 in a Challenge Cup tie and ultimately beat them to the title in season 2015/16. There’s the Scott Allan saga, when Hibs refused - as is their right - to sell the midfielder to Rangers. And then there’s the 2016 Scottish Cup final, when Hibs scored a 92nd-minute winner at Hampden to clinch the trophy and spark wild scenes that culminated in Hibs fans invading the pitch. Some Rangers fans joined them and there were reports of skirmishes between Hibs supporters and Rangers players. Ultimately, little came of it.
Even this season, we’ve had Hibs-Rangers beef. Hibs head coach Lennon celebrated with “cupped ears” to the Rangers fans during a 3-2 win at Ibrox earlier this term. Hibs also won 2-1 on their last visit to Govan.
Right now, these two clubs don’t really get on. However, that’s no reason for Rangers to hit out at the slashing of their ticket allocation. Hibs will sell out their section. That’s almost a guarantee. The latest whining from within Ibrox smacked of playing to the gallery, a gallery hardly happy with the current situation at Rangers right now.
Hibs have done nothing wrong here. And, if you look at that previously referenced statement table, they sit bottom with one. Rangers will finish well above them on that front. Whether they will do on the field remains to be seen. Right now, Hibs prefer to do their talking on the pitch.