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News Agenda: New Scotland shirt sparks arguments about the beautiful game bleeding its customers dry

The Tartan Army has hit out at the price of a new anniversary strip, but the items sold out in a few hours.
Neil Drysdale
Scotland's 150th anniversary kit was unveiled this week. Pic: Scottish FA.
Scotland's 150th anniversary kit was unveiled this week. Pic: Scottish FA.

It was one of those historic items which allowed Scottish football fans a reminder of their part in the development of the beautiful game.

Yet, when the team’s new home shirt, marking the 150th anniversary of the first international match against England, went on sale to the public this week, it proved far easier on the eye than on many people’s wallets.

The aesthetically-acclaimed strip is priced at £90 for adults and £70 for juniors and the badge features a gold lion rampant, in line with early Scotland jerseys. The item also pays homage to Queen’s Park – the pioneering Glasgow club which provided a conveyor belt of original Scotland players – with hooped stripes on the sleeve.

And, whatever misgivings a lot of supporters had about the price tag, the cash registers at JD Sports, which has exclusive rights to sell the shirts, were soon ringing merrily.

But that doesn’t disguise the reservations harboured by myriad individuals in the sport about the fashion in which football often seems to take its fanbase for granted.

The price of Scotland’s 150th anniversary strip has divided opinion. Pic: Scottish FA.

Cost-of-living crisis impacting fans

The Scotland men’s team will wear the shirt for the first time in their Euro 2024 qualifier against Cyprus tomorrow afternoon, while their female counterparts will be regaled in it during their next figure against Costa Rica on April 11.

There’s a buzz around the international circuit again, with both the men and women benefiting from a surge of interest throughout the country after a lengthy period where there was precious little reason to celebrate, amid a succession of inglorious failure.

However, in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, with supporters outside Glasgow often forced to spend significant sums to travel to Hampden to attend major fixtures, the price of the anniversary shirt has sparked a heated debate.

And there’s no doubting the concerns of many in the Tartan Army.

Scotland captain Andy Robertson.
Scotland captain Andy Robertson will be wearing the new strip against Cyprus tomorrow.

Andy Smith, chairman of the Scottish Football Supporters Association, told the Press & Journal: “[Charging] £90 for an adult shirt and £70 for youngsters is simply the wrong decision by someone.

“It would be nice to celebrate the 150th anniversary and be proud of Scotland and Scottish football in the anniversary shirt, but not at the price they have announced.

‘Wrong decision’

“Just think how many they would have sold if the adult top was, say, £30 or £40, and the youngsters’ one was on sale for £20 or £30.

“They would have sold a lot and made even more money. But it’s never too late to reverse dumb decisions and I hope they see the light.”

Steve Clarke has been pivotal in boosting Scotland’s football fortunes. Pic: Rafal Oleksiewicz/PA.

He added: “We have two sell-out Hampden games [against Cyprus and Spain] and that is wonderful, but the expenditure required will hurt some family budgets and this little episode shows that football, north of Hadrian’s Wall, is taking supporters for granted.

“The price for Tartan Army fans heading to Hampden or supporters to any away ground is way more than the price of a ticket and we would ask for a little more understanding from those who run the game in this country.

“If the Doddie Weir Foundation [set up by the late Scotland rugby player] can make a healthy contribution to motor neurone disease charities, while selling tops for £45, then questions about the SFA prices are fair enough to ask, because fans are not happy.”

trafalgar square
Scotland fans take over London as the Tartan Army enjoy the atmosphere at Trafalgar Square.

His words were echoed by North of Scotland Tartan Army chairman, Alan Duncan, who has travelled thousands of miles cheering on his compatriots down the years.

He said: “I’m not going to generalise it as the SFA, I’d say the SFA commercial department needs to be reconsidering how they treat us.

“For those of us in my part of the country, in the north of Scotland, we spend an awful lot just travelling to home games. We have to spend a lot of money anyway and asking for another £90 for a shirt… is just a step too far.”

But the items still sold out

However, despite widespread criticism of the prices, JD Sports revealed, within hours of the items being rolled out, that they had sold out. And that’s the problem.

As one former Aberdeen FC employee said, there are supporters who are prepared to pay almost anything for new pieces of kit. And the authorities are well aware of this.

The Tartan Army has become Scotland’s 12th man on their tournament campaigns.

Dave Macdermid told me: “Charging £90 for a football top, while so many of us are struggling to pay for even the basics, does seem, even for a purchase that is traditionally designed to maximise margins, a bit over the top, but of course, as soon as they went on sale they were selling like the proverbial hotcakes.

“And therein, lies the crux of the matter. The merchandise offered by sports clubs attracts more than the average share of ‘early adopters’, those who must have the latest gear available and where price is not the determining factor thus giving the seller the opportunity to maximise revenue.

“It is simply market forces at work, but it is still a bitter pill to swallow for those who simply cannot afford it. Sadly, there is no easy answer and it is unlikely to change until the cost increases to the point where, even for the early adopters, price DOES become the determining factor.”

ROSS CUNNINGHAM: £90 Scotland top is another own goal for the national game

The days have long gone when the BBC and STV would regularly screen live international coverage of Scotland in action during the team’s qualifying campaigns.

Some of us can remember the likes of Archie Macpherson and Arthur Montford going slightly crazy as they revelled in goals from Joe Jordan or Kenny Dalglish in the 1970s.

Scotland matches on PPV TV

Nowadays, any Scotland fans who want to watch the matches against Cyprus and Spain on TV must shell out for a subscription to a Scandinavian sport broadcaster.

And this is in addition to the other sports channels, such as BT and Sky, which armchair football supporters may already be paying for to enjoy domestic Scottish coverage.

Ultimately, there’s no cheap way of following what is unarguably Scotland’s favourite pastime. And it’s in that environment that frustration and annoyance starts to creep in.

Former Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald believes fans are paying too much for football.

As former north-east MSP Lewis Macdonald said: “Of course, the SFA should celebrate such a major anniversary, but surely the best way to do that is to sell as many special Scotland shirts to as many fans as possible.

“Prices which are twice what you might pay for a Premiership club top don’t take into account the cost-of-living crisis which fans have to face. Including more people in the celebrations is surely more important than making more money for the SFA.”

The latter body were approached for comment, but declined to respond. However, a source close to the governing body told me: “JD Sports deals with these kind of commercial activities and it is up to them what they charge.”

It seems that it’s not only the ball being passed these days, but the buck!