Aidan Smith: Why I want a season-ticket rebate from Hibs

Do you know how much ballet lessons cost?
Waiving the right to a season ticket rebate is an expression of devotion to your club. Picture: Ross Parker/SNSWaiving the right to a season ticket rebate is an expression of devotion to your club. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
Waiving the right to a season ticket rebate is an expression of devotion to your club. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

Just about the biggest expression of devotion you can make to your football club right now is to waive the right to a season-ticket rebate for the games you didn’t get to see because of the pandemic.

I have submitted my claim.

At my club over the past few days the faithful have been remembering how the team almost died, how they packed out the stadium to demonstrate their love and also their defiance in the face of an attempt by the city rivals to obliterate them.

I was not there.

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Am I any less of a fan? Some might say so. They may accuse me of a lack of loyalty. Well, there are mitigating circumstances …

Do you guys know how much ballet lessons cost? Or boys’ football boots during growth spurts when favourite stars swap theirs so often? Or nappies?

In my household, a season ticket must be able to stand up to the same scrutiny as any other outlay. It must come from the family budget; there are no exceptions. Is it essential? How much will it be used? It cannot, in the event of limited usage, be dumped in the garage like the chest-expander (that’s a joke and I don’t actually have a garage). If it breaks I must be able to go straight on to the manufacturers for a refund. Same with the season ticket for Hibernian.

The money I get back will be swallowed up by debt. I am a dad of four with a big mortgage for a tumbledown house who like many recently has had to take a pay cut while others have lost their jobs. My eldest son also has a season ticket but right now I’m more concerned with keeping up with the instalments for next year’s school trip to France. I want him to see the world. That awayday to Motherwell can wait.

Season tickets are strange things in the world of transaction. It used to be the case that, as with almost all other instances of buying in bulk, you got the games at knockdown prices. Then clubs decided this was too much of a bargain and now there are no savings to be made. Signing up “guarantees” your seat but few Scottish teams are ever completely sold out. Inspected with a hard business nose, the season ticket might be viewed as a bit of a swizz.

Ah but it’s a commitment, a pledge and the only ID card that many need. When fans renew for another term they like to announce it on Twitter, as if they’ve just enlisted, which in a way they have, smiling bravely before heading into the great unknown. Do they need to tell us? Well, this is the way of the world now, and maybe there isn’t much wrong with it when you remember how clubs didn’t bother getting to know their supporters and wouldn’t supply them with a roof over their heads, only Middle Ages pissoirs.

But haven’t you ever taken time out from following your team or is that just me? I don’t think it’s only me – in fact, I had a chum in tow when, bored with the (non-) style of play when Bobby Williamson was Hibs’ manager, we bunked off to watch Falkirk at lovely rickety old Brockville. Rab and I were out of condition for standing on terraces again and ended up with sore backs – but there may have been other skivers that afternoon. The catering staff quickly ran out of produce and an alert had to be despatched by walkie-talkie: “We’ve nae mair pies – over.”

We still laugh about that day though didn’t make a habit of it: your team are your team, after all. But lack of flair, lack of money, the poncey belief we’re rounded men and not merely round-ball ones and the opportunity, as the old song goes, to chase the bright elusive butterfly of love have all conspired against us being there every single, relentless, goddam, is-he-playing-again? week.

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In 1989-90 Hibs finished seventh, same as the season recently curtailed, although in a ten-team league that was more precarious. As we know, and as 30th anniversary pieces last week reminded us, the late Hearts supremo Wallace Mercer chose this moment to make his audacious bid to buy Hibs. But I missed the entire drama – the bold Waldo’s talk of a merger, Hibbies crying “Murder!”, the mustering of the resistance movement, the “Hands off Hibs” rally – by being stuck in Italy.

I was hardly languishing. Based in Florence where my brother was at uni, I toured the entire country on a romamaround train pass – a season ticket if you will – mixing the Italian Renaissance with Italia 90. I saw many matches, lots which didn’t involve Scotland and were therefore angst-free, but bedsheet banners desperately trying to preserve the name of my seemingly-doomed team and encounters with shell-shocked confederates from the Leith San Siro made me wonder if it was going to be worth ever going home. Then came word that Mercer had been repelled and Hibs saved.

Thirty years ago I couldn’t do much to help my club and can’t regret a fantastic experience in what were more carefree times. Now I cannot be devil-may-care with money. I wish I could be but I’m (happily) entrammelled in family life and in our house there are many more demands on the leisure pound, so much so that even my next compilation CD of obscure 1970s prog-rock will have to wait.

Does this make me one of Mercer’s “customers”? That was his term for fans, and he meant it in a good way. Customers were not fools, they made investments in their clubs and expected a return. Mistakes can be made, and in football it seems they always will be. The wrong manager can appointed, such as Williamson and, last season, Paul Heckingbottom. The season tickets I purchased for me and my son helped fund some of his underwhelming signings. Let’s just call the few pounds I’m clawing back our recompense for having to watch Josh Vela among others.

I haven’t said I won’t be renewing so don’t call me fairweather. I’ve seen my team thrashed 7-0, lose at Clydebank and other places you didn’t even know existed and, stylistically, be unrecognisable from the side with which I first fell in love 53 years ago when the two Peters, Marinello and Cormack, were in their pomp. I’m still a fan.

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