As regular forum contributors and anyone who bought ‘ROAR of the Crowd’ will be aware, complete attendance figures for ALL clubs are only available from 1961 onwards. To show how attendances have changed over the past half century I have split these figures into three groups. The first is for the old 18-club Division one from 1961-1975 inclusive, the second for the pre-SPL Premier Division which consisted of ten clubs 1975-1986, twelve 1986-88, ten again 1988-1991, twelve 1991-94 and back to ten 1994-98. The final set encompasses the fourteen years of the SPL 1998-2012 which consisted of ten clubs 1998-2000 and twelve from 2000 onwards.
To make sure I am comparing like with like I have only included matches in the top division at any given time as, inevitably, crowds are lower further down the scale. Also, I have included only the fifteen clubs which have spent time in the top flight during all three eras. Thus the following clubs are excluded: Inverness CT, Livingston, Gretna, all of whom joined the league after 1961 and played in the top flight in the SPL only, Airdrieonians, Ayr United, Dumbarton Morton and Raith Rovers who all played in both Division One and the Premier Division but not the SPL, Clydebank who played only in the Premier Division, and Arbroath, Clyde, Cowdenbeath, East Fife, East Stirlingshire, Queen of the South, Stirling Albion and Third Lanark who played in Division One only.
The remaining fifteen are the seven big city clubs of Celtic, Rangers, Hearts, Hibs, Aberdeen, Dundee and Dundee United plus the seven leading ‘provincial’ sides Dunfermline, Falkirk, Kilmarnock, Motherwell, Partick Thistle, St Johnstone and St Mirren. Yes, I know the Jags are a Glasgow club but in terms of size and history they have more in common with this second group than the Old Firm and other city teams.
The fifteenth club is Hamilton Accies. Although they have played in the top flight during all three eras, it would be stretching it to put the Accies on a par with the other provincial teams as they have spent just six of the 51 seasons covered as a top flight side.
The first analysis is to determine mobility between the divisions. In the 1961-75 era with two up and two down in a two-division set-up each season there were 26 promotions and relegations (it didn’t apply in at the end of 1974-75 when the league was reconstructed). A total of 28 clubs played in the top division. Seven were constants - the seven big city clubs. In addition, five of the provincials - Dunfermline, Killie, ‘Well, the Jags and St Johnstone all missed just one season, Airdrie and Falkirk just two and Clyde three. In other words fifteen of the eighteen were pretty much the same year in year out. Morton (ten seasons), St Mirren (nine) and Ayr United (seven) spent 50% or more of the time in the top division. So there was an established hierarchy back then just as there is now, only slightly larger. Indeed with 28 clubs playing in an 18-club division over fourteen seasons it represents almost the same average as the fourteen years of the SPL which has seen eighteen clubs in a twelve-club league. . The middle period - the pre-SPL Premier Division has a participation rate of over 200%, that is 21 clubs in what was usually a ten-club division. Of course that extends over a longer period than either of the other eras.
Between 1975-1998 there were 39 promotions and relegations, a lower rate than before as the divisions were altered, one up one down operated at times and towards the end of the period play-offs were introduced. The 1975 reconstruction was the first step in the extension of the dominance of the Old Firm. They wanted fewer clubs in the top division and the other big city clubs were happy to go along with it (Dundee United being the notable exception), tempted by two extra home games against the big two instead of visits from the likes of Arbroath and East Fife. Clubs at the top end of the old Second Division were happy too as they scented bigger crowds from entertaining Kilmarnock and Partick Thistle than from Brechin City and Stenhousemuir. Oddly enough the Brechins and Stenhousemuirs were in favour too as they reckoned they could never push for promotion to the top division but could to a middle one.
So the clubs which lost out the most were those provincial ones which had enjoyed a semi-permanent position at the top table prior to 1975. Of the seven provincials mentioned earlier Motherwell spent the most time at the top (nineteen seasons) and they were helped twice by changes to relegation rules. St Mirren had fifteen seasons, Partick ten, Kilmarnock nine, St Johnstone seven and Dunfermline and Falkirk both six - a far cry from 1961-75. But much to their astonishment the big city clubs suffered too. For a long time (until they eventually fixed it) they failed to realise that a relegation rate of 20% every year put them in danger. In fact if we take the Old Firm out of the equation the practical relegation rate was 25% - two from eight. Every one of the other city clubs except Aberdeen went down at some stage and even the Dons were only saved in a play-off in 1995. Worst affected were Dundee who went from being consistently the sixth biggest club in Scotland to second in their own city, spending just thirteen seasons in the Premier. Hearts - never before relegated - went down three times between 1977-1981 and spent four of the 23 seasons out of the top flight. Both Hibs and Dundee United fared better, missing just one season.
So, only three clubs - the OF and Aberdeen - spent all 23 years at the top with just Hibs and Dundee United keeping pace at 22 seasons. Of those outside the ‘regulars’ Morton fared best at seven seasons. Airdrie had four, Ayr United, Clydebank and Raith Rovers all had three and Dumbarton one. The outsider of the ‘regular’ fifteen, Hamilton, had two.
So to the SPL era. While the percentage of participants is the same as the old Division One, so is the NUMBER of permanent members, hence a much greater percentage of the latter. Like Division One, seven clubs (the Old Firm, Aberdeen, Hearts, Dundee United with Kilmarnock and Motherwell replacing Dundee and Hibs) have been in the SPL each and every season. The rate of permanence in 1961-75 was 26%. In the SPL it is 39% - a 50% increase. With a pathetic twelve relegations and fourteen promotions (including 2011-12) reasons for this aren’t hard to find.
In addition to this, Hibs have missed just the inaugural season so two-thirds of the SPL are pretty much permanent fixtures. Of the rest of the regulars, Dunfermline have had nine seasons, Dundee, St Johnstone and St Mirren seven, Falkirk five, Hamilton three and Partick Thistle two. True, there have been new clubs in Inverness CT, Livvy and Gretna. Ross County will join next year but the SPL can claim no credit for these clubs admission to the league structure or their progress or otherwise since.
I will show the attendance figures in my next post which demonstrates just how much the SPL has transformed the landscape in favour of the big two. This one is long enough as it is. I’ll close with just one other fact. In the 1961-75 period no top flight clubs went into administration. Nor did any between 1975-1998. In the SPL era there have been FIVE, all within the past decade. That’s 28% of the membership during that time.