Alan Pattullo: Fans mistreated by reconstruction

Picture: Jane Barlow
Picture: Jane Barlow
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IF IT wasn’t cheerless enough at the end of a miserable afternoon for the home fans on Saturday at Easter Road, they then had the added stress of being reminded, via a crackling message relayed across the Tannoy, about an imminent deadline.

Yes, today is the last day for Hibernian supporters to purchase season tickets at a special discount price.

There are no doubt similar deadlines in place at other clubs, as they try to entice fans to commit as early as possible to … well, what exactly? Only in the desperately delinquent environment that is Scottish football can a business feel emboldened enough to trade on the loyalty of fans despite not being able to confirm the details of the product they hope to sell.

It is unappealing enough for Hibs supporters, given that their side have won just once in their last nine league fixtures at Easter Road, and on Saturday Pat Fenlon’s side slumped again, at home against Inverness. But form comes and goes. It is impossible for a club to guarantee that the fans will see victories in return for their money, and supporters accept that. Of course they do.

However, it is not beyond the power of these clubs, along with Scottish football’s equally-at-fault governing bodies, to establish in advance the league system in which these fixtures will be played. Just the minor points at least; such as how many games there will be, how many divisions and whether or not the points earned at the start of the season will still count after the new year, or will clubs locked in something called a “middle eight” have their totals re-set to zero, as has been proposed.

It is bad enough that supporters are expected to purchase these season tickets without knowing for certain whether the games will be played on a Saturday, Sunday or even now on a Monday or Friday night. They now understand that they have to suck it up if, for whatever reason, they are unable to attend a game that has been moved from a traditional Saturday afternoon slot to another day entirely, for broadcast purposes.

This has long been the lot of the long-suffering football fan, but being harassed for their custom when the powers-that-be have not even managed to confirm the structure of the league, the building blocks upon which the football season is constructed, is taking disrespect to a new low, and let’s face it, the national game has plenty of previous when it comes to treating fans poorly, and for taking them for granted. Just last week we had Scotland supporters clearing snow from a pitch in Serbia before they had to then wince through an international team’s performance that is a by-product of years of ineptitude at the top of the game.

Be grateful for small mercies; we have a date for the start of the top tier’s new season at least. Fans were furnished with this information last week. As it stands, all that is known for certain is that the Scottish Premier League will kick off on 3 August. Other than this, next season looms ahead of us like a magical mystery tour, without the magic – unless we are referring to those suddenly disappearing points, a new innovation we may – or we may not – see implemented next season. They will let us know about that, apparently, which is nice of them.

On Saturday, we had Neil Doncaster blithely informing a radio station’s listeners – prospective customers of his Scottish Premier League organisation, remember – that it will be sorted out in the near future. Reconstruction is, he reminded us, within the gift of the Scottish Football League clubs, many of whom have stepped back from what had once seemed a likely agreement to go with 12-12-18, as devised by the SPL steering committee. Unimpressed by the steam-rolling tactics of the SPL, many clubs have shrunk back.

There is not even a scheduled date for when the SFL clubs are due to reconvene. As for the SPL clubs, something so vital can wait until not just next week, but the week after; 15 April is when they will sit and vote. Then it is possible we will have the horrific prospect of reconstruction via a hostile breakaway faction, as those First Division clubs eager to grab the bigger bounty on offer threaten to impose an SPL 2 upon us, something guaranteed to wreak more turmoil and uncertainty.

Today, remember, is 1 April. This would all count as a big, thigh-slapping joke if it was not so serious, and fans were not being treated with a level of contempt that almost makes you wish every football club gets the response it deserves to such pleas for custom as the one made by Hibs on Saturday, and play out next season – if they ever get round to coming up with a format – inside completely empty stadiums.