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The best things in life are free .. if you're Faz.

Good old Faz, eh? Just when you think he's gone soft, he bounces right back - bigger, better and barmier than ever.

I must admit, it had been so long since we'd heard from him that I was starting to worry that he had taken up his tools again and gone back to landscape gardening.

So you can imagine my relief on Monday afternoon when he came out of an SFA meeting and stated that people in this country think football is free.

Of course, he's right, as usual. I do think football is free - if your name is Jim Farry.

If you are Jim Farry, you get a free office, a free car, free trips to any game in the world and free admission to the best seats in the house. It's just the other five million-odd of us who have to pay. And boy, do we pay ... Thirty quid for the right to kick a ball on a public park we pay for out of our Council Tax? No wonder so many would rather spend Saturdays with their nose buried in a Sega or clutching a pint.

Sixteen quid for a Coca-Cola semi- final ticket? No wonder Parkhead on Tuesday night had slightly less atmosphere than the graveyard next door.

No wonder football is losing the battle to hold on to its market share under good old Faz.

I heard a report this week that sales of shoes are down 12 per cent and a survey of shoppers found the reason is overpricing.

Now. People need shoes - they stop us getting our feet wet.

But people do not need football. It is wonderful, it is exciting, it is an escape - but it will not stop you burning your toes on hot tar in the summer.

So if consumers are prepared to go without something they need because it costs too much, what chance do we have of keeping them interested in something which the powers that be are turning into more of a luxury with every passing day?

My wee fella was at St Mirren's game with East Fife on Saturday. We had just under 2500 there.

So he was asking me what crowds they used to get at Love Street in the olden days when I were a lad.

I told him under Alex Ferguson we went from around 1000 to an average of about 13,000. He asked me where they had all gone.

I couldn't answer him - all I could say was some had drifted away, some spent Saturdays being dragged round the shops by their wives, but an awful lot simply couldn't afford to go.

So he said: "If the prices are too expensive and St Mirren only get 2500, then Love Street is nearly empty. Why don't they half the prices and maybe get 5000 in.

"St Mirren would still make the same money - and people would have more left in their pocket to buy a pie or a programme."

Ladies and gentlemen, the boy is nine years old. Mr Jim Farry is in his early 40s.

So what happens between Primary Six and a person's arrival at Park Gardens to make logic disappear so completely?

Why can't the people who run Scottish football - and I know Faz will complain that it's not him who makes the decisions and that we'll all believe him -realise what one young fan realises: that you have to be competitive to win customers in a competitiveage.

Football cannot expect people just to turn up and wave their flat caps in the air any more.

There are too many other attractions on a Saturday, too many other things which take a lot less effort and cost less money.

And don't blame Sky for attendance debacles like Tuesday. I don't know one single true fan who wouldn't rather see the game in the flesh if the price was right.

But at pounds 16 for a ticket, plus transport, plus a couple of beers and something to eat, it becomes far more economical to watch the game down the boozer - and even more economical to stay in the house and earn some brownie points from the wife. That's why Kilmarnock's idea to HALF their prices for next Friday night's live Sky TV game with Hibs is so commendable.

Last Saturday they had fewer than 6000 at an important clash against Raith Rovers when the TV cameras weren't there.

So what chance would they have had of putting many bums on seats WITH the counter attraction of telly?

There are many simple ways Scottish football clubs can make the game more attractive to fans - cutting prices across the board for certain games is one of them.

Many years ago when I was working in Clydebank, Jack Steedman made admission free for women in a bid to boost gates.

My own team St Mirren are one of a few who go round local schools giving away tickets to youngsters, hoping to win them over as paying customers in the future.

But on the other side of the coin, the game still makes basic errors which you simply wouldn't put up with at the cinema or the theatre.

A few weeks ago I took my boy to a Coca-Cola Cup tie at Dunfermline and found no parent and child gate at the away terracing.

I only had a pounds 20 note, so I had to leave a nine-year-old outside the boys gate with a steward while I went in and then passed a pounds 5 note from my change back out to him.

The steward and the police were very helpful but what if the same thing happened when the Old Firm visited?

What if their attention was taken away by a disturbance in the crowd?

If that happened to you at the cinema, you simply wouldn't go back. And yet football expects us just to keep going no matter the cost, no matter the inconvenience.

Well, as far as I am concerned, the SFA and the Scottish League should each be given a giant photo of the empty spaces in the Parkhead stands on Tuesday and forced to pin them on their wall - as a reminder that fans will no longer be taken for granted.

Neither will amateur football players be taken for granted over Pay As You Ernie.

If and when this ludicrous scheme goes through at SFA level, it will be the biggest blow that the minor game in this country has ever seen.

It's not so much the money -pounds 30 works out at less than a quid per game - but the principle.

Jim Farry is right - people in this country DO think football is free. And when it comes to playing the game, they are right.

Pay As You Ernie must not be allowed to go through unchallenged. Neither must ticket prices like those imposed on this week's semi-final fans.

Let's do something about both before it's too late.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Leckie, Bill
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 25, 1996
Previous Article:Scots nudge in for Budge.
Next Article:Tommo told he can go.

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