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Page last updated at 11:47 GMT, Wednesday, 14 January 2009
Calls for free football matches for kids

By James Cook
Newsbeat reporter in Kilmarnock

Kilmarnock players and Celtic's Andreas Hinkel
Scottish teams could start letting kids into games for free

Football clubs in Scotland are being urged to allow children into games for free.

Kilmarnock versus Aberdeen was never going to be mobbed.

It was a rescheduled midweek game and Glasgow giants Rangers were playing on television. The attendance was 4,354. Nearly 14,000 empty seats.

But do they need to be empty or should clubs like Kilmarnock let youngsters in for free?

The loyal fans who turned up last night thought so.

Wrapped up in a bonnet and scarf Peter Orr told Newsbeat: "It should happen at every one of the SPL clubs.

"In this climate just now there's no money about, so get the young kids into the games and maybe you'll get a bit more support when they grow up - they'll come back to the game."

Stuart Crockett reckoned it would help boost attendance. He said: "I don't even think it's a third full most weeks, so it probably would be a good thing. Even if it was half full it would be a better atmosphere."

I think they'd get bigger supports in and there would be better atmosphere at the games
15-year-old Kilmarnock fan Chris Murchie

Alistair Kinnaird and Chris Murchie, both 15, were at the game together. They too thought it was a good idea.

Alistair said: "They'd get a lot bigger support anyway than what they get, so it would be a much better idea."

Chris said: "I think they'd get bigger supports in and there would be a better atmosphere at the games, instead of it just being half crowds."

'Over the turnstiles'

There is a precedent for the idea. Partick Thistle are Glasgow's third team, playing at the moment in the First Division.

Without the huge fan base of Celtic or Rangers, this season they've turned to other ways of filling their ground.

At Firhill, all under-16s in the crowd, whether they're home or away supporters, are allowed in free.

Many people came with their dad when they were wee... we want to get kids back into that habit
Partick Thistle chairman Allan Cowan

"Coming to football is a habit," says Thistle chairman Allan Cowan.

"Many people came with their dad when they were wee and they've continued coming ever since.

"We want to get kids back into that habit. When you were a youngster you could be lifted over the turnstiles and allowed in for nothing.

"This is the modern day equivalent of children being lifted over the turnstiles and allowed in for free."

Politicians' support

Frank McAveety MSP, Labour's spokesman on sport in the Scottish Parliament, reckons there are 60,000 empty seats at SPL stadiums every fortnight.

He said: "Scotland's national sport is football and we want to encourage support for that as well as other sports.

Frank McAveety
Frank McAveety MSP says there are 60,000 empty seats a fortnight

"I think football clubs - if they've got spaces - I think it's not unreasonable to say in these straitened times why don't we open the doors up, let children in and let's try and make a difference for football in the future."

He's now persuaded the Scottish Government of the plan's merits.

"It's a very good idea," said the Scottish sports minister, Stewart Maxwell.

"By allowing young people into the grounds we get them off the streets, we get them interested in football and frankly of course they could be interested and be future supporters of their local club.

"Not only that. If they get interested in football, hopefully they will go out there and not only watch it, but get active and play it as well."

Action needed

But Mr Cowan wants those in power to do more.

"I'm delighted to see that the politicians think that what we've done is a good idea, but of course we've done this on our own," he said.

"We have applied for grants, we have applied for sponsorship but nothing has been forthcoming.

Celtic's Scott Brown and Rangers' Barry Ferguson
Big clubs like Rangers are unlikely to offer free entry any time soon

"So while it makes a nice soundbite for a politician to say football clubs should be doing this, it would be even better if the politicians were to actually do something material to help support a club like ourselves, which is actually doing something about it."

The SPL wouldn't comment on the plan. But a spokesman said they were "wary" of the idea.

Scottish football, he said, was already among the best attended in the world with one in 45 people going to games.

Many clubs in Scotland and in England already have some kind of scheme to encourage younger supporters.

Free entry could be feasible at some grounds but the gates of Ibrox or Old Trafford are not likely to be flung open any time soon.

A spokesman for the Premier League said in a statement: "Ticket prices are a matter for clubs themselves, all of whom offer concessions to children attending Barclays Premier League fixtures.

"Strong attendances this season, with grounds currently over 91% full on average, have not stopped Premier League clubs from offering a number of very affordable deals on tickets.

"For upcoming fixtures, examples include West Ham United offering all tickets to under 16s at 1 and Aston Villa selling family tickets for two adults and two children at only 40."

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