Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why the apathy?

Charles Green really isn't easy to like, is he?
All his s***-stirring, all the "agenda" this, and "bigoted" that, are clearly desperate attempts to play to the gallery - and his metamorphosis in the eyes of Rangers fans from Pope-Worshipper to True Billy Boy Bluenose status in the matter of a few weeks suggests he is succeeding.
For example, he gave a speech to the fans before Rangers' first home game of the season, raucously received, where he mockingly contrasted the huge Ibrox attendance with the anticlimax that was the SPL's Sellout Saturday. It wasn't classy, it wasn't clever, but it wasn't an unreasonable comparison either.
Sellout Saturday was an anticlimax - nay, an embarrassment - everywhere but Aberdeen, where 14,000 dragged themselves to Pittodrie to watch a clash with Ross County. An impressive, entertaining Dons win might have led to some better-late-than-never season ticket sales, or at least encouraged some of these Fair Weather Fans to come back. Unfortunately for them, it was a day where Scott Vernon left his shooting boots at home, and when the County goal appeared to have some sort of ball-reperlling forcefield around it. The resultant goalless draw suggests that Aberdeen will look back on Sellout Saturday as a missed opportunity.
But at least there was some interest. Contrast it with the first Inverness home game of the season, against Kilmarnock. The attendance, in a stadium that holds 7,500 fans at full capacity?
That is lower than any home gate at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium in the league for the whole of last season.
Yes, the away support was rubbish (in number - they made a decent noise) - less than 200 in my book. But the home end was filled with wide-open spaces that you could have sat a herd of elephants in. Inverness play Celtic this weekend - last season raised the alarming spectacle of empty seats in the home end even when we played the Old Firm, something that was unthinkable in previous years.
Inverness aren't the only ones who are struggling to attract fans - attendances at most clubs are not heading in the right direction. I'm going to look at the reasons why ICT can't bring fans through the door, but plenty of these apply to other clubs too.
A ticket in the main stand at Inverness for a home game against another 'diddy team' - £26
A ticket in the away end at Tynecastle (I couldn't be assed going in the end) - £25
A ticket at the halfway line, three rows from the front at the DW Stadium to watch Wigan play Chelsea, with Hazard, Torres, Cole, Terry and several other international stars on display - £22
Being royally ripped off to watch football in Scotland - priceless
For a season ticket holder like me, the value is better, but in the current climate £350 is a lot of money to fork out. In contrast, you can sit in a pub and watch a game on the TV for the price of a pint or two. Or buy an "All-you-can-watch" cinema ticket for £15 a month.
The solution? For goodness sake, make it cheaper. I know Motherwell's experiment with low ticket prices a few years back failed, but £26 for ICT-Kilmarnock?! You'd have to be a nutter to pay that (he says without a trace of irony). Once you price fans out of football, they find other ways to spend their money, and they won't come back. It's got to be better in the long run to fill the stadium.
Oh for the days when our league contained world-class players...Laudrup, Larsson, the De Boer twins, Nakamura (maybe not world-class, but damn good). Aberdeen were spending stupid money on guys like Paul Bernard and Robbie Winters, Motherwell were forking out for John, apart from the occasional tiny payment, no club other than Celtic in the SPL can afford to pay a transfer fee, and our clubs are less attractive to a lot of players than League One and League Two in England. So the standard has slumped through the door - but if there's less money flying around then that can't be helped. I'm also fond of pointing out that top players do not necessarily guarantee you an exciting game.
But the games themselves are not much to shout about. For a lot of teams, a draw at home is a decent result. Some sides like Kilmarnock, Dundee Utd and St. Mirren, at least try to play good football - though that doesn't seem to boost attendances. But Inverness spent last season playing hoof-ball. Our 19 home games produced only 46 goals (the lowest at any ground in the league), only 19 of which were by us (the second fewest, behind Hibs). I know plenty of supporters who have been turned off completely by last year's dross. And, to cap it all, we have to sit down and behave like good little schoolchildren, otherwise some fascist stewards will drag you out at the first opportunity. After all, in blazing sunshine at the ICT-Killie game, there were countless stories of parents having bottles of water, taken along for their children's benefit, removed because they might be used as a weapon. This despite the fact that there was nowhere at the ground where you could get a drink of water...
The solution? I'd like to think that, if the games were good to watch, it might attract more spectators...but I don't know if that's true. It probably depends on whether the team is winning or not. Which leads me to my next point...
Inverness' home record in 2011/12 - won 5, drawn 5, lost 9, goals for 19, goals against 27
Seven times we were shut out, five times we scored once, and seven times we scored twice. We haven't scored three or more in a home game since March 2011. And only 7 of those 19 games had three or more goals in them. So we don't win much, and we don't score much, and we don't let the other team score much either. It's more boring than sitting through an entire episode of Question Time.
The solution? Well, the romantics amongst our support long for the Steve Paterson days, where we played 3-5-2 with wingers instead of wing-backs, where our home games seemed to produce either a 4-0 win or a 4-3 defeat. On the other hand, we coudln't get out of the first division when we played like that. And our attendances were even lower then. But I live in hope that, this season, are primary tactic won't be long balls aimed at the head of a 5ft 8in striker.
Last season we played Dunfermline six times in all competitions. Enough said. We play the same teams again...and again...and again...
The solution? At least this season we have Highland derbies, which surely, surely will sell out. If they don't, then there is no hope. And maybe the spectre of league reconstruction will become a reality and this problem will be fixed. Maybe.
Are some of our 'fans' defecting across the Kessock Bridge, taking advantage of the novelty factor that comes with the Staggies' promotion to the top flight? I'm not convinced, personally. But there have been rumours...
The solution? Finish above County in the league. Play better football. Simple as that.
This was clearly a reason for slow season ticket sales at the start of the summer, and ICT's chairman made some very ill-advised comments to the press that probably haven't helped. But there have been an awful lot of supporters who announced proudly that they would renew as soon as 'justice was done' and haven't kept their word. Meanwhile, there is a large contingent of our support who saw the Gers as their Big Team - have they been turned off by not being able to see them twice a year?
The solution? Too late, the boat has sailed on this one.
One friend on twitter summed up the problem succinctly - "high price + rubbish product = low attendance". Those are undoubtedly the major factors apply to plenty other SPL clubs, even if a few of the above reasons are unique to football in the Highlands. The bottom line for me is that clubs seem to expect their supporters to turn up, rain or shine, win or lose, whether the team play like Barcelona or park the bus. It's simply not good value entertainment, and hasn't been for a long while. And the clubs still seem to be sticking their heads in the sand, ignoring all those who are drifting away from their grounds.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Newco signing policy is madness

Once they were deposited into the third division, the inevitable rise of the newco Rangers from the bottom of the Scottish football pyramid back to the place at the top table where they belong was always going to be an interesting story.

It came as a pleasant surprise to Gers fans, and a shock to everyone else, that a few first team players chose to stay.  Veterans Neil Alexander and Lee McCulloch, both aged 34, are rumoured to be on huge salaries as a result of their contracts being TUPE-d across to the newco...wages that no-one else would be lunatic enough to offer.  Kirk Broadfoot and Lee Wallace also stayed at Ibrox, the latter's apparent loyalty to the cause severely damaging his Scotland prospects.  A few other big names are still loitering around - Romanian Dorin Goian, and the American trio of Carlos Bocanegra, Maurice Edu and Alejandro Bedoya - but the latter two are on the way out and Goian and Bocanegra certainly have offers from elsewhere.  Already we have seen a cohort head for the exit door - McGregor, Papac, Whittaker, Aluko, Davis, Kerkar, McCabe, Ness, Ortiz, Fleck, Healy, Lafferty, Naismith and plenty more.

So, with the club's income slashed as a result of the negligible prize money and TV money available from playing in the diddy leagues, as well as an inevitable drop in revenue at the gate caused by reduced attendances and lower ticket prices, and a 12 month transfer embargo commencing as soon as this window slams shut at the end of the month, plus Charles Green's assertion that Rangers would "never have debts again", Rangers squad for the upcoming season will depend heavily on the Murray Park graduates who have remained, plus maybe a few hardened professionals from the divisions above who are more than good enough for the third and second division promotion campaigns.

...or so logic dictates.  Reality appears to conflict with that.

Today Rangers signed three players.  First up, we have former Scottish international striker Kevin Kyle who joins after leaving Hearts in March.  Of course, the reason Kyle left Hearts was because he has an injury record that makes Michael Owen look invincible.  He hasn't made a first team appearance since they invented the wheel (oh, all right, it was January 2011.  But that's still ages). At least Rangers have only risked giving him a one year contract.  I wonder how much money he'll end up making per appearance - what do you get when you divide by zero again?

Also arriving was Spanish forward Francisco Sandaza, who scored 18 goals for St. Johnstone last season.  Oldco Rangers of course bidded for Sandaza back in January - a pretty cynical move considering they clearly didn't have the money to pay for him.  He's signed a three year contract for £5,000 a week, apparently - interestingly he had been offered a pre-contract at the beginning of the year for the same amount, but had denounced the Gers as cheapskates!  I'm amazed he hadn't had a better offer...or at least an offer from a better club...

And the other man through the door?  Well, how many of you have ever thought to yourself "What a team really needs in order to win the Scottish third division is a Brazilian defender"?  Enter Emilson Cribari.  He has Champions League experience with Lazio...four years ago.  He has just left Brazilians Cruzeiro, where he managed a grand total of five appearances last season.  And he is 32.  He has signed up for two years.  So by the time Rangers reach the first division, he will be 34 and out of contract.  Er, what on earth?

And of course, the newco have already signed up two guys who made my SPL Team of the Year for 2011/12, Ian Black and Dean Shiels.  Hearts couldn't afford to offer Black a new deal, so he signs for Rangers, who still owe the Tynecastle side £700,000 for Lee Wallace's transfer a year ago.  Kilmarnock claim they had to reduce their wage offer to Shiels because of the unclear financial climate caused by the oldco's collapse; Shiels thus turned down the chance to keep playing for the team coached by his dad in order to go to Peterhead and East Stirling next season.  Black was on the brink of the Scotland squad after a fine campaign; you can bet he isn't now.  But both will apparently earn £7,000 a week - do you think that might have been a factor?

Where Sir David Murray once said "For every fiver that Celtic spend, we'll spend a tenner", presumably Green is going for "For every quid that Elgin spend, we'll spend a tenner".

But where on earth is the money coming from?

Whilst clearly no more than an educated guess, Paul McConville reckoned that, as of 27th July, Rangers' wage bill was at £5.2 million a year, including coaching staff.  That was before the five new signings.  Their wages may be cancelled out by the departures of the four men mentioned above - the Americans and Goian.  But even if that wage bill stays the same, McConville reckons that Rangers would have to get at least 33,000 through the gate at every home game just to break even.  And that's considered a best-case scenario.

So why are Rangers paying extortionate wages to these players, when they could easily win the third and second divisions with cheaper players?  Here are the possibilities I can think of...

1)  Green actually does have a £30 million warchest, as claimed a few months back by the Daily Record (I don't believe this for a second)

2) Season ticket sales are slower than a snail on sedatives, so Green is hopeful that signing good players will bring the fans in

3) The new club's money is being squandered recklessly...the more things change, the more they stay the same

4) Green has been told by the powers-that-be that imminent league reconstruction means that Rangers will be in the SPL, or close to it, as soon as next season (given the events of the summer, I can easily believe this will happen - this is The Conspiracy Theory for all non-Rangers fans)

5) Green has not been told the above, but has claimed to Black, Shiels et al that he has, and he's lured them to Ibrox under that pretence

6) Green is just an asset stripper, and wants to run Rangers into the ground with reckless spending before walking away with Ibrox, Murray Park etc (this is The Conspiracy Theory for all Rangers fans)

Anyone else got any clever ideas?  It certainly doesn't make any logical sense to me that Rangers feel the need to line up against the likes of Clyde with a strike force of Sandaza and Kyle (or, if he signs as well, Craig Beattie), supported by Shiels from midfield, with Black spraying the passes, and a Brazilian in the heart of the defence. It's harder to understand than the points race in the cycling Omnium.  Unless Charles Green knows something the rest of us don't.