Growing up in Paisley, it felt very easy to be ushered into a world of culture. Once, I remember being told by my Glaswegian grandfather that Paisley was “Glasgow’s artsy little sister” and in fairness, I think he may have had a point. Look through a list of people from Paisley. There’s a decent-sized list on Wikipedia (which may not be entirely accurate) that’ll do the trick. The whole thing is awash with actors and artists of some degree. But also sports heroes. You see, as well as Paisley being an “artsy sister” it also remains a Scottish town. We are not all actors, and we definitely have interests that are not all aligned with sitting in a smoky theatre in turtlenecks. But Scottish people do have one general, accurate interest – we love our sport. And not just a little bit, either. Football, of course, can incite massive amounts of passion to Scottish people as much as it can to any other people worldwide, but this translates into how many people go to games.
According to worldfootball.net –but then reported in national media last year – the top league in Scottish football was the highest attended in Europe per capita, with 0.29% of the total population attending weekly games in the 2018/19 Scottish Premiership. England, our closest neighbour, only has around 0.06% of people going to Premier League games down south, and Spain have only 0.05% going to La Liga. So, Scots turn up – but how about on a local scale? Well, in the 2018-19 season, St. Mirren’s average home attendance was 5,352 people throughout the year. That, when looking at the population of Renfrewshire as a whole, amounts to around 3% of the total population – a decent amount more than the average of the country going to top-flight football games. That doesn’t even account for people who may go to other close-by teams such as Celtic and Rangers, or teams in lower leagues like Greenock Morton and Partick Thistle.
And besides football? The other professional sports team to be based in Renfrewshire, Glasgow Clan, who play in Braehead Arena, had an average home attendance of 2,728 people across the same time period. Whilst there might be something of an overlap, i.e. people that may go to both St Mirren and Clan games, this is still a very good number of local people going to see just two local teams. Of course, just because these are Renfrewshire teams, it doesn’t mean it will all be Renfrewshire crowds – especially when taking into account away supporters visiting for the day. But in football there may be people from Renfrewshire going to support neighbour teams in Glasgow, so the number attending sport could be slightly higher or lower than the numbers quoted at St. Mirren and Clan games.
What matters most that this town cares about sport in the area. But now we live in a world of COVID-19. When professional sports return, it may take a while for anything close to crowds of this magnitude going to see a game. That’s families not spending time at a game, that’s people not having their weekly heartbreak, that’s people with a void that was once filled. Obviously, the sports will still be there. Streaming, on TV, on the radio and in the paper, but what becomes of the people who go weekly? No doubt a vast majority will rush back to their seats when they are allowed to do so, but it’s sad that many people in Renfrewshire so used to being at an event will now remain tucked away for the time being. And what about the players? The kids in the park, or in community centres and church halls, falling on mats or trying harder and harder in learning to skate. It’s a real gut-punch to see that cease so suddenly, yet ultimately necessarily, disappear. Though, as lockdown looks to be ending and the sun keeps rising, sports will return one day, in the way that they used to. Soon, those from Glasgow’s “artsy sister” town can watch a team in purple on ice, or a black-and-white team on grass, in a way will truly feel normal again.
Ryan Goodwin is a writer, you can follow him on Twitter @RyanGoodYin