There was once a time when games against the Old Firm were deemed the most attractive fixtures for fans of other clubs.
Admittedly, that’s long ago now. These days, they are increasingly ones to avoid. Why subject oneself to an atmosphere most likely made up of questionable and often offensive songs? An additional turn-off is the almost guaranteed prospect of defeat.
Not only this, but with the advent of category A games, fans are often expected to pay more money for the privilege of witnessing such miserable spectacles.
St Johnstone have taken this into account. They have reacted to what a club statement yesterday described as a “noticeable lack of enthusiasm from supporters” for these particular fixtures, which, it’s noted, already present challenges due to ever-changing fixture dates and kick-off times because of the demands of television. A third stand – the east stand, where most home fans tend to congregate – will be given over to Rangers and Celtic supporters for games at McDiarmid Park in the coming weeks.
As a result, all home fans will be housed in the main stand, capacity around 3000. Judging by recent attendance figures for these fixtures, there will be room to spare.
Remarkably, only 1451 home fans attended the game against Rangers in September – St Johnstone’s lowest home crowd of the league season by a margin of over 500. Those who stayed away were hardly made to regret it. St Johnstone lost 4-0. Last season, the Perth side were five down by half-time at home against Celtic.
Some are describing the club’s attitude as defeatist. Actually, it’s opportunistic. And quite right too. But rather than the surrender of a stand to Rangers and Celtic fans, the real issue is why these fixtures have become so hard to sell to home supporters.