Motherwell take the lead in trying to attract fans back to the game

MOTHERWELL, as a club, want to do things differently. On Friday night they will.

It isn’t just that staging their game against Hibernian on that evening will mean they become part of the Scottish Premier League pilot scheme into the possibility of attendances being boosted by starting the football weekend earlier. In setting admission prices at £10 for adults, £5 for concessions and looking at free entry for children, the Fir Park club is putting out the welcome mat for visiting fans.

An element of that is opening the lower tier of the stand that houses travelling supporters so that they can potentially have a greater influence on their team’s on-field efforts.

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Motherwell’s chief executive, Leeann Dempster, accepts that the days are gone when large travelling supports can be expected at any games that not involving the Glasgow clubs. Aside from those occasions when Hearts, Hibs and Aberdeen are the visitors, there would be no requirement to open the away end at Fir Park.

“But is it the right thing to do?” says Dempster. “Part of me says it doesn’t look good for TV when that stand is empty but then we put people into the top of it. In the past we have thought ‘well, we need to give every advantage [in terms of making noise] to our own fans’. We can’t do that any more. We have to take the negatives which is the away fans coming on odd occasions, as Kilmarnock did when they came here and won 1-0, and made a hell of a lot of noise. That definitely made a difference that day.

“We still get fans coming to us and complaining that we gave the Cooper Stand away to visiting fans. That was five years ago.”

Five years ago, the notion of playing on Friday nights seemed distant but Dempster believes clubs are open to trying anything that might lead to more fans coming along to a game that, in comparative terms to live concerts or cinema outings, she believes is not nearly as over-priced as is popularly perceived.

“The idea fans will turn up no matter how badly you treat them is rubbish. Those days are long gone,” she says. “It is all about ‘what can we do’. Our mindset as a club is how to bring more people to the games. Our gates are up and our season tickets sales – 2,500 to 3,500 – are up. Let’s be honest, we were at a low ebb. There was a hardcore when I came here and the increases are on the back of some fantastic football.”

Another issue is the ban on alcohol at Scottish football grounds in place since the 1980s. Alcohol is served at English football stadiums without serious impact on crowd behaviour. “I went to my first game 1986-87 and there was never alcohol so it has never been part of my psyche,” Dempster says. “Do I think there has been a new dawn and we are more responsible, that we can police ourselves better? I absolutely do. I’m not saying sell alcohol in every ground in every stand and start it next week but I think it is worth investigating.

“My friend took me to a Newcastle game two or three years ago and there in the concourse was a bar. People weren’t punching each other, there was no problem. It was just a surreal experience for me. We need to demonstrate football can police itself in a positive way.

“If clubs like us were able to sell alcohol in a limited way it would make a financial difference to us. But I am not saying we just want to make money. Does it enhance the experience? It is not the most imminent thing I want to try. I don’t want to be seen as the person who brought alcohol back to Scottish football but maybe it is something we can have a discussion about.”