2 September ~ The sole Belgian fan who travelled to support his team in Armenia last September was both mocked and pitied in his home country. However, many of the roughly 1,000 Scotland fans who recently paid £50 to join or renew their membership of the Scotland Supporters Club only to be denied a ticket for the forthcoming Euro 2012 qualifier in Lithuania may regard him with envy.
Scotland fans wishing to follow their team abroad are only able to buy tickets through the official Scotland Supporters Club (SSC). Fuelled by the era of budget flights, many recent competitive games have been hugely over-subscribed, bringing into play the SSC points system. Members are awarded a point for every away game out of the last ten attended – someone who has been to four of the last ten games has four points. If the SSC are given, say, 2,000 tickets for a game, then those on ten points are given first refusal, and so on down until all the tickets are sold. This has inevitably led to members on the fewest points routinely being turned down for tickets to the biggest or most affordable fixtures.
The upshot of this has been the regular appearance of hundreds, if not thousands, of the Tartan Army among the home supporters, most famously in Paris three years ago, but also in large numbers in Amsterdam, and to a lesser extent in Iceland and Oslo. Significant numbers were also turned away from the gate in Macedonia and, in a clear sign of its growing unease with the situation, the SSC recently contacted members without tickets for Lithuania urging them not to travel.
However, given that many will have already paid for non-refundable flights, this appeal is likely to fall on deaf ears. Despite being given 2,800 tickets for an 8,000 capacity stadium, many Scots will again be heading for the home end. So, how to resolve the situation? Or, more pertinently, does it actually need to be resolved? While a few dissenting voices favour a random allocation of tickets, or the removal of points for friendlies, most seem happy with the current set-up. Even most of the "zero pointers" appear to accept that those prepared to travel to expensive friendlies in Tokyo and Stockholm to see a second-string attempt to keep the score down have earned their place at the bigger games.
Indeed, for the fans who will again be running the risk of being refused admission to the home end, friendlies may well hold the key. Every member who applied for a ticket for the last four non-competitive fixtures was given one, regardless of their points tally. Many zero pointers in Kaunas this week will reflect that a trip to Stockholm last month would have given them a much better chance of a Scotland end ticket.
Armed with this knowledge, many are thought to be targeting next year's inaugural Celtic Cup. With three fixtures to be played and no lack of cheap flights to get them there, several thousand SSC members will travel to Ireland in the hope of sufficiently boosting their points total ahead of the trip to Spain later that year. Ironically, it may be this fixture against the European and World Champions that saves the Dublin-based tournament from being an empty stadium embarrassment. Graham Davidson