Saturday, December 03, 2011

Friday Night Football: Short and Sweet?

To Motherwell and part two of the great SPL Friday night football experiment.

Pity poor Motherwell. If you want to try something (sort of) new and attract the punters with cheap tickets it's probably essential that you get ninety minutes played.

Unfortunately this Friday night project was abbreviated.

The right call: there were obviously concerns - and the whiff of burning - developing during the first half.

An extended half time hadn't allayed those fears so the authorities made the decision to call a halt.

Safety is paramount. We're now in an era where we can largely travel to football stadiums with little fear.

As Stuart McCall said last night that hasn't always been the case. Sometimes health and safety decisions are made in our best interests.

One major flaw. The lack of a properly functioning tannoy system in the away end left the Hibs fans to draw their own conclusions about what was happening.

The sight of the ball boys disappearing down the tunnel and Motherwell fans heading to the exits told us what we needed to know.

In a real emergency that might pose a problem. A needless problem that could be easily solved.

We were left in the hands of the matchday stewards.

A doughty and oft maligned breed, the football steward. But a breed apart nonetheless.

For the steward a stern countenance and high visibility apparel takes the place of polite conversation.

All of which added to the breakdown in communication that possibly amplified what I gather were some unsavoury scenes as people tried to get their hands on tickets for the rescheduled match.

There was much to admire about the way Motherwell approached last night's game but the handling of the abandonment left scope for improvement.

The game itself?

This was a squally, miserable night in Lanarkshire.

Hibs, led for the first time by new manager Pat Fenlon, looked more determined, kept their shape better and set out to cope in defence and use Ivan Sproule, Leigh Griffiths and Isaiah Osbourne to support Garry O'Connor.

It worked. With more positivity evident in the support there was more desire and simple hard work on the pitch. They kept Motherwell pretty much contained and O'Connor was on hand to convert their chance when it came.

So far so good. Even the warm up looked more impressive than it has in recent weeks.

A glimpse of a new beginning? I'll not get carried away. Yet.

Motherwell seemed more hampered by the wind than Hibs and struggled to break through the defence and seemed unsettled by the constant harrying of the scampering Lewis Stevenson and David Wotherspoon.

Both teams though will have been disappointed to be denied a second half.

And what of this Friday night frenzy?

The ten and five pound admission prices and various other schemes Motherwell had in place apparently did the job.

Over 7000 braved the cold to take in the game.

That compares nicely with the 5172 and 4202 who turned up for Hibs' two visits to Fir Park last season.

As far as I can tell it's the first time this fixture has attracted over 7000 supporters since October 2007.

An unqualified, rip-roaring success?

Well. Aye and naw.

The prices clearly offered a motivation to attend but Motherwell will need to decide if they brought in big enough numbers to make it an experiment that should be repeated.

The travelling support of 1500 proved that Edinburgh to Motherwell is not too far to travel on a Friday evening. But that number was surely inflated by the Fenlon factor.

Anecdotally a lot of people seemed to suggest that they much preferred making the trip on a Friday evening than, say, for a 12.15 kick off on a Sunday afternoon.

But Friday night football was never going to slay the television scheduling monster.

We can say that Aberdeen v Dunfermline and Motherwell v Hibs have drawn over 15,000 fans for the two Friday night games.

If the clubs consider that to be a success then they have to announce a longer term experiment.

I don't think ad-hoc games, particularly with the massive variable of Motherwell's pricing ploy, can give us a decent guide as to the longer term sustainability of Friday night football.

Persuading Sky or ESPN to schedule some Friday night TV games - whispers suggest this might be in the offing - would also give a better idea of how Friday night compares to Saturday or Sunday lunchtime.

There might be a germ of a good idea here. And there's probably enough evidence to suggest that it is worth exploring more.

But two games do not a nation of Friday night converts make.

Investigate it properly. And while you're at take a look at this equation:

Lower prices = bigger crowds.

That might just be more important than when you kick off.

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