|Dwindling Attendances at Celtic Park|
|13-01-09 06:14 AM|
The attendances at Celtic Park have been noticeably dwindling now for several years, but the 23,070 crowd for the Scottish Cup clash with Dundee was a new low. In reality over twenty three thousand paying fans for a match against lower league opposition just after Christmas and during tough economic conditions is actually pretty decent, and there are certainly not many football clubs in Europe who could have achieved this. Especially when you considering that Chelsea for a Champions League match against Rosenborg on match day 1 of the 2007/2008 season could only attract a crowd of 24,973. The attendance of 23,070 also compares well with other major clubs across Europe on Saturday and to illustrate this fact The Estadio da Luz was half empty as only 32,837 watched Benfica defeat S.C. Braga to go to the sumit top of the Portuguese Premier League. However, the attendance against Dundee is one of the lowest attendances for a competitive match at Celtic Park since the Jock Stein Stand was opened in 1998 and is a new low in what is a very worrying trend.
The official average attendance in the 1998/1999 season when the Jock Stein Stand first opened was 59,233. This figure is probably a little high due to the fact that season ticket seats are included in the official figures regardless of whether the seats are actually filled on any specific day. However the official figures certainly are indicative of the dwindling attendances at Celtic Park. Focussing on the Strachan era, attendances have fell from 58,149 in his first season, to 57,928 in 2006/2007 and then down to 56,676 last season. This figure is particularly disappointing considering the dramatic and tight title race with Rangers. Peter Lawwell has been very proactive in trying to prevent this decline. Children and OAPs could purchase tickets for the Dundee game for only a fiver and if this wasn’t the case the crowd could have been considerably lower.
This year adult season ticket prices were frozen and season tickets for minors were slashed. For children twelve and under the price of a season ticket is as little as £50 which works out at £2.63 per match. It is £100 for children aged 13-16 (£5.20 per match) and £150 for children aged 17-18 (£8 per match). It’s an old cliché that children are the future and will be the lifeblood of Celtic in years’ to come thus Lawwell’s actions must be commended, however it hasn’t prevented the attendances dwindling further. In fact, I took someone to the game against Inverness on the 29th of November who hadn’t been to Celtic Park before and although the official attendance was 55,117 there could not have been more than 40,000 at the game. When asked why this was the case I struggled to give a suffice answer. Top of the league, going for 4 in a row and enjoying our most successful spell of domestic dominance since the Jock Stein era. Was the poor crowd a result of complacency? I don’t think so.
Ask yourselves this question. When was the last time you got really excited at Celtic Park? It’s been a while that’s for sure. Performances such as the 3-0 drubbing of Benfica have been few and far between in recent years. This season I would say it was the second half against Falkirk in August for me. It was the game where Maloney made his first appearance on his return to the club and I could feel a sense of optimism around the stadium. We played some really good football that afternoon and saw Samaras score an excellent goal after great build-up play with Maloney. Crosas came on as a late substitute and impressed. We had the Rangers game the following week and the Champions League to look forward too. We all know how that went… Although the vast majority of performances at home haven’t exactly been vintage we have had our moments - the last minute winner against Aberdeen, an exciting win against Hibs and Skippy’s goal against Man Utd have been my highlights but generally I have left Celtic Park feeling pretty lethargic and in my opinion this is why the attendances have been dropping.
With the impending departure of Nakamura in the Summer and possible transfer of McGeady following his rift with Strachan, the few creative and exciting players that I look forward to seeing are ebbing away. With the credit crunch I can’t see us spending big money either to replace them. With the potential loss of two of our best players with cheap and cheerful replacements seemingly already in place – Mizono, McGinn and McCourt, I fear the overall standard and quality of our team will only get worse and this could easily result in attendances abating further. Games against Hamilton, St Mirren, Falkirk and Inverness don’t exactly set the juices flowing anyway so if our standard does drop it will be extremely difficult if not impossible to fill Celtic Park on such occasions.
Personally I know several people who are seriously considering not renewing their season tickets next season. Their opinions are ten a penny on Celtic Minded too. Essentially their bored. They aren’t enjoying going to the games as much as they did in the past. Some blame the atmosphere, or lack of while others impugn Strachan and his tactics. Are we as fans getting our moneys worth?
I was discussing the issue of attendances with one of my mates who is originally from Nerwy recently, and he informed me how the numbers in the supporters club he used to be in had dropped considerably in the past five years. The bus has went from being regularly full to at times last season not having enough numbers to make the journey to Celtic Park worthwhile. To be fair, getting up at some ridiculously early hour and travelling all day to watch us scrap a 1-0 win against Inverness Caley Thistle on a cold and damp November afternoon isn’t exactly very appealing and those who do this frequently should be commended. As money does get tighter however, those making the journey regularly from Ireland or from far afield will decline sharply.
Half season tickets were made available for £150 and should see a rise in attendances in the second half of the season. However, in the longer term with the country in a recession and money tighter for everyone I fear that attendances can only get worse. The fact that we struggled to sell all the Champions League packages this season is an indicator that there is a serious issue. It will be very interesting to see what the attendance is against either Peterhead or Queen’s Park in the forthcoming Scottish Cup tie. With the League Cup semi-final against Dundee Utd at Hampden on the Wednesday and a trip to Inverness on the Sunday which will probably set me back in the region of £60 before drink, another £18 for the Scottish Cup game couldn’t come at a worse time and these circumstances could quite possibly result in another embarrassingly low attendance. As the credit crunch bites the next few years will be tough for everyone with people having to tighten their belts. Attendances will suffer further as a result. Difficult times ahead.
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