Not Supporting Rangers.

Last updated : 08 November 2010 By Number Eight

While one pays to watch his team, the other spectates by using a variety of media sources instead of actively attending games. Sometimes he doesn't even bother to watch at all, but he always looks out for his team's result.

Technology has made it possible to manage our leisure time better, and while an Old Firm game used to be a day's commitment, now it can be a two-hour window in a day devoted to other pursuits.

Not so long ago, an Old Firm matchday would begin in the pub at half-past twelve on a Saturday. A pre-match beer with mates was an agreeable start to a long haul, and when the match was over, another hostelry was frequented to dissect the main event. At closing time, my other half would pick me up and we would probably treat ourselves to a curry on the way home.

I've never considered myself to be a drinker, and yet I loved those hours spent in the pub chatting about football, religion and politics. My wife would sometimes ask me about the well-being of the wife or girlfriend of a pal, but I could never give her an answer. In all those hours in the pub, we never made polite conversation. No-one asked about wives and girlfriends - it was all about the game, the sport, its political and religious aspects and about whose round it was. It was a grand day out.

Now, we tolerate midday kick-off times, Sundays have taken the place of Saturdays for certain fixtures, there's no time for a pre-match guzzle and it's too early to spend the rest of the day in the pub, and yet we still expect people to retain their 'supporter' status instead of becoming mere fans. I wonder how long this can be sustained.

This isn't just nostalgia. I see young people developing a football habit that excludes actual attendance at the match. They look forward to the game as much as anyone, but they watch online or in the pub, and when the Rangers game is over, they'll catch an English or European game. If this is the new way to enjoy football, as it seems to be for many people, what does the future hold for the sport?

Attendances, particularly at Ibrox, have held up well, but with admission costs being obscenely high, technology providing a cheap and easy alternative, the matchday experience being generally unremarkable and sometimes intimidating due to over-zealous stewarding, we have to wonder what the future has in store.

Those who support their team using media sources enjoy the experience. They don't mind not being at the game. They are content to watch online or on television, and the idea that they should spend around £40 to attend a game that they can watch in the comfort of their own home is easily dismissed. Much as they love the game, they don't want to trouble themselves with the cost and hassle of actually being there in person.

As I write, Rangers are still trying to flog tickets for a Champions League game against Manchester United. I'll repeat that - Manchester United! The idea that we are struggling to fill Ibrox for a fixture of this stature is a glaring indication that something is seriously wrong with the sport - and maybe with Rangers too.

The recession is playing a part in demand being down, but I hesitate to put all of the blame on the difficult economic circumstances of the day. My concern is that there's a new way to watch football, and that it has found favour with a growing number of people.

When we look at the Ibrox experience, we should be able to understand why people are tired of making the journey. Policing and stewarding is an ongoing headache; singing and standing can invite trouble, over-policing of the subway is a pain, having to waste time and energy buying tickets for games that should have cash turnstiles is a turn-off, intrusive loudspeaker waffle is a pest, parking can be risky and expensive, and there's not enough respect from the club to its 'customers'.

Many people are prepared to tolerate all of the above and still keep the faith, but some are exploiting the technology of the day to access their football, and once they get used to it, they tend to stick with it - and this number will surely continue to rise.

Clubs are going to have to give this serious consideration. Ten years from now, Rangers may have even more fans, but if it suffers a substantial reduction in supporters, we're all going to suffer.