PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland
The SPL is a more competitive league than the English Premiership. I read that somewhere recently. The logic was that with two teams out of twelve in with a chance of winning the SPL that meant that 16% of participating clubs were in contention, whereas in England, with three clubs from 20 in with a realistic shout at the title the ratio is 17%.
Statistics, doncha just love 'em?
Author David Ross makes no such spurious claim in this book, of course, and in fact he acknowledges that statistics can suggest anomalies like this when he states that, 'While more people than ever before are watching football in Scotland, they are doing so at only two main venues - Ibrox and Celtic Park.'
Although the book is a trawl through meticulously researched attendance figures throughout the hundred odd years of the Scottish League, it is far from being an anorak's kama sutra. The chapters are divided into significant epochs in the game - the Hungry Thirties, the period of decline between '75 and '94 - the narrative is witty and lively and the author's conclusions are perceptive and difficult to argue against.
Those who romanticise about the good times when the turnstiles at every Scottish ground were merrily whizzing round with punters spinning through to fill them to capacity have proof in this book that this was more myth than reality. Some of the best attendances in the history of the Scottish game have been recorded during the last five years.
Celtic were slower than Rangers to redevelop their stadium, of course, but Fergus McCann is given due credit for the part he played in dragging the club into the modern era: 'Celtic could attract upwards of 60,000 for big games but their usual support was under half that. McCann's genius was to convince the casual Celtic supporter that it was necessary to subscribe to EVERY game in order to see the important ones.'
Ross is not a Celtic fan - neither does he appear to be particularly antagonistic to the Hoops - but at a time when we're trying to distance ourselves from being lumped together with Rangers under the 'Old Firm' tag, with all its concomitant baggage, I couldn't help bridle at some of the passages where he is writing about the two clubs. Take this, for example, on the subject of Maurice Johnston's transfer to Rangers: 'At the time the furore it caused was a source of bafflement to the rest of the UK as Rangers supporters were seen on TV threatening to send back season tickets and rip up scarves if the Johnston transfer went through. Embarrassed Scots resident in England and Wales had to explain the whole sorry Old Firm history to friends... Seeing one's countrymen act this way near the close of the 20th century hardly made the Scottish chest swell with pride.'
For 'countrymen' here read 'Rangers supporters' and I hope that he found a satisfactory explanation in the 'sorry Old Firm history' (read: discriminatory practices of Rangers FC) for people foaming at the mouth at the thought of their football club signing a player of a hitherto proscribed religion.
That aside, this is an entertaining and informative book. Raw stats are rarely presented without insightful commentary, but even on their own they provide food for thought. Celtic's average attendance during the 1966-67 season, for example, was just over 31,000. Since 1995, the middle of our worst decade in living memory, the average gate at Celtic Park has only fallen below 48,000 three times.
See, I told you statistics were fun!
The scope of the book is comprehensive, from the largest League crowd (118,567 for Rangers v Celtic, January 1939) to the lowest (32 for East Stirling v Leith Athletic three months later - the tannoy announcer would have been quicker reading out the names of the crowd for the players rather than vice versa), and the stories behind the figures are recounted, often in some detail. Every club's record attendance match is reported and there is another interesting section on clubs who have, for one reason or another, bitten the dust over the years. (Third Lanark played their last game in front of just over 500 people - I think I've been bored to death by at least half of them in various pubs around Glasgow).
Contrast with what phenomenal crowds there were over the decades, to such an extent that for over forty years Hampden held the world attendance record. Even today every significant crowd record in Europe is held by Scotland's National Stadium.
Enough here to be recommended for inclusion on the shelves of any Celtic bibliophile as well as those with either an interest in the Scottish game or an unhealthy fascination for crunching numbers.