Complex demands

Dianne Millen looks at Aberdeen's hopes to move to a new stadium and complex as part of Scotland's bid to host the Euro 2008 Championships

Aberdonians of a certain age can remember the glory days. Not the hot Eighties nights un­der Fergie when even the likes of Bayern Mun­ich were sent home from Pittodrie to think again, but further back yet, to the Fifties and Sixties. In those pre-wage inflation days, an ordinary league game against Hibs or Dundee United would see the official 40,000-odd cap­acity swelled by a good few hundred who never touched a turnstile – clinging to the roof of the Main Stand, maybe, or even perched peril­ously on the newly installed, state-of-the-art floodlights.

But these days, the gaps shown by the mer­ciless glare of the Sky cameras are in the half-empty Main Stand, not just in the Dons de­fence. Although going all-seater – Pittodrie was the first ground in the UK to do so – slashed the capacity to 24,000, the average home gate this season for the club of Scotland’s third city, population 212,000, is still only about 12,300 (this including a bumper 18,838 gate against Ran­gers on the opening day of the season).

This is actually quite good going for the SPL: Aberdeen have its third largest home and away support. But the trend is obvious. The departure of the Old Firm would make things worse (financially, at least) for the other SPL clubs, deprived of the increased gates these games always attract. Nobody’s talking yet about a crisis, but the days of punters on the rooftops are gone from Scotland forever.

Seemingly in defiance of the numbers, how­­­ever, Aberdeen have grabbed on to Scot­land’s Euro 2008 bid like Vinnie Jones seek­ing a striker’s scrotum. The club’s new stad­ium is being pitched as a tourism and job cre­ation winner for the whole region, a veritable Theatre of Dreamsesque “complex” which goes beyond the provision of mere spectator facilities.

Otherwise known as the “Centre of Excellence of Sport and Leisure that will be a world class facility for the North East”, the complex promises “a total match day experience”, in­corporating bars, restaurants, a football acad­emy, indoor training pitch, sports centre, golf centre, hotel and catering centre and fitness centre. Oh, and a 30,000-capacity football sta­dium as well.

Leaving aside the question of whether Ab­erdeen fans want or need “a total match day experience” – presumably at total match day prices – change in some form is inevitable. The current stadium is on its last legs after with­standing decades of the biting sea air, so whatever happens with Euro 2008, its days are numbered, as club chairman and re­nown­ed local property developer Stewart Milne has made clear: “If the SFA’s bid is not successful, we will reopen full consultation on the case for either redeveloping Pittodrie or relocating to a new site.”

However, the club itself admits that “the climate within football” caused them to put their initial plans on hold. Clearly the prospect of support from the Euro 2008 bid process has pushed redevelopment back up the ag­enda, but Aberdeen must make sure that they are not left stranded like a whale once the in­ternational tide has ebbed. A new stadium is one thing, but the fact that UEFA require a minimum 30,000 capacity for international tournaments – clearly far larger than is re­quired for domestic use – means Aberdeen are being tempted to build dangerously bey­ond their means. With a current budget deficit of over £3 million, they cannot afford to make the wrong decision.

The “if you build it they will come” philosophy has had mixed results down south, while Chelsea are at full stretch to pay even the interest on the loans which delivered their “total match day experience”. In the current financial climate, if clubs miscalculate they might not live to see their bicentenary. It would be a disaster for Scottish football if its third force were the one to lose the numbers game.

From WSC 179 January 2002. What was happening this month