SO, I’m limbering up for my 70th birthday. Methinks, in spite of creaking knees, this could be a celebration that has the referee signalling extra time.
Part of the plan – which conveniently sidelines a normally munificent missus – is to return to my home city of Aberdeen, re-acquaint myself with my old school chums and participate in the general wing-ding that will inevitably ensue.
One of our number suggests a visit to Pittodrie on Sunday, November 9. A capital idea – it’s a veritable home from home, after all.
That’s where, over half a century ago, we would go every other Saturday, decorated in our red and white scarves and caps.
We’d eulogise about the authentic dribbling wizardry of Charlie Cooke (unlike many of today’s contemporaries, he could mesmerise two or three opponents with an adroit swivel of his hips).
Away back then, we were de facto founder members of what is now known as the Red Army. We travelled on the occasions, when pocket money permitted, to Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Kirkcaldy.
It could be an inherently hazardous business. I remember once leaving Ibrox in our Campbell’s (Bon-Accord Square) coach, crouching low in our seats, as the back of the charabanc was bombarded with stones. We had the audacity to win that day.
No more allusions to the past, however. Back to the future: Celtic are coming in November. What the hell! We old boys should do this in style. We should go corporate, have a meal, a few drinks, and take our padded seats in the Richard Donald stand.
An old friend telephones to report the fiscal damage for such self indulgence. It would be best if he whispers ’cos my wife’s hearing is compatible with that of a fruit bat. The trouble is he ain’t whispering softly enough.
Suddenly, her earlier munificence deserts her. “You should be sectioned if you consider paying that!” she roars.
Right on cue, while I’m thinking padded cell rather than padding for the old posterior, I receive a text which perhaps delivers a dollop of realism to any possible debate.
It’s from another one of the Aberdeen Academy old boys’ network. He’s done rather well for himself. Lives near London; you imagine he has plenty of loot.
He, too, is arriving in the Granite City in November, but his message is unequivocal. “I wouldn’t pay that for watching Arsenal, far less bloody Aberdeen FC!” he insists.
It seems there’s never been a more propitious moment to destroy the theory that you can’t put a price on the love of your favourite football team. I’m afraid you can.
In my case, it’s £285 – the spondoolicks required if I were to take up Aberdeen’s offer of a platinum hospitality package. I’ll spell it out again: two hundred and eighty-five bloody dabs. Remember, this is for one day only. Or, if you insist on being pedantic, one afternoon.
I shouldn’t be surprised, really. A recent BBC Sport study reveals that it costs more to follow the Dons – cheapest season ticket to new customers: £342 – than Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City and Bayern Munich.
Whilst you’re digesting the enormity of that statement, allow me to admit I was tempted for a few romantic, but madcap, moments to plump for the corporate option.
But, then, the significance of my old school pal’s text message set in. And the more I contemplated the situation, the more my indignation multiplied. Forget the match itself for a minute. Would such an outlay be worth it?
You would at least expect, for this princely sum, a performance from Lady Gaga, or, perhaps for the more senior citizens (including me), a short cabaret stint from Dame Shirley Bassey.
What’s on offer, in fact, is more prosaic: a four-course meal complete with wine and liqueurs, drinks before and afterwards, a match programme, car parking, a regular visit from a Dons legend (sadly, not Charlie Cooke), and, oh yeah, an unwritten guarantee against the possible onslaught of haemorrhoids.
When, if ever, are Aberdeen FC going to add wisdom to their undoubted flair for audacity? Is this the way they repay the people who have stayed loyal over the years when some of their players had difficulty in kicking a stationary backside, far less a football?
Sure, the team has staged something of a revival these the last two or three seasons, but anyone suggesting it is the finished article should head for a psychiatrist’s couch and prepare for an extended consultation.
There are still troubling factors hereabouts. Stewart Milne constitutes one of them. The chairman’s elation at winning the League Cup was such that he announced to a private party of friends that in manager Derek McInnes, he had found another Alex Ferguson.
You would have imagined, then, that there would be financial backing for someone of such talent. Er, not really. Thus, the team’s anomalies insist on flourishing.
Why do they persist in playing Jonny Hayes at left-back, for instance? Insiders tell you that’s because he’s the best left-sided defender at the club. Really? I would have said, even more crucially, he’s the best attacker at the club.
A natural left-back, of course, has been a prerequisite for several seasons now and yet they still cannot afford to pay Inverness Caley Thistle the £100,000 it would need to take Graeme Shinnie back to his homeland.
With the debt standing at circa £15million, it’s claimed that the bank is vetoing any expenditure on transfers. If this is the case, you wonder at the bank’s wisdom regarding speculation and accumulation.
Aberdeen’s home game against Dundee United (they lost 3-0) attracted 16,471. Their subsequent home game against Partick Thistle plummeted by over 5,000.
You don’t need an actuary to tell you that the potential revenue from the differential would have paid for Shinnie and left some small change.
Pursuing a tradition of old under Milne’s leadership, it’s all about begging bowls, promises and pledges – most of which never seem to come to fruition, in spite of the efforts of vice-chairman and “kick-ass” specialist, George Yule.
Yule is easily identified, driving around the Aberdeenshire countryside, stopping only to explain to people how the team won the League Cup. When there are questions about the new stadium or a new training headquarters, such garrulousness seems to evaporate.
Oh, yeah – that new home: plans to build a stadium at Loirston Loch south of the city still figures largely in directorial dreams – despite the disturbing fact that 75 per cent of the support hails from the North and the city itself. Perhaps, then, that is why they’re planning on reducing the capacity to 14,000.
Now, label me a cynic and you’d be quite correct. But each time I hear about an Aberdeen FC enterprise, I shudder.
And I was shuddering this morning when I read the comments of a spokeswoman answering charges of overcharging. “As a club rooted in its local community, we are committed to making football at Pittodrie as cost effective for our supporters as possible,” she said.
It’s rooted in its local community to such a degree that it charges £285 for a meal, a few drinks and football match of indeterminate potential.
This old boys’ network says it’s way beyond time that Milne, Yule, Duncan Fraser (he’s chief executive, not that you’d notice) and all those directors put their collective acts together and gave us the club we deserve.