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Trains, Boats and Planes – Time for some more fan transport partnerships in Scotland

Date: 27th July 2016

Fan Travel: Trains, Boats and Planes – Time for some more fan transport partnerships in Scotland

 By Scottish Football Supporters Network contributor Damon Main

Recent news that fans of West Ham United will be able to purchase subsidized train travel to home matches at the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium home ground has seen some parallels drawn with similar ‘ticket and match’ initiatives that have long been the norm in Germany.  With efforts being made to get more fans to football matches safely and the match ticket price being a continuing challenge perhaps its time for such initiatives to be on offer in Scotland?

It’s now many years since the regular football special train disappeared from the travel plans of the Scottish football fan.  The football special and its association with organized hooliganism as well as the growing privatization of the railway network has almost completely seen what was an extremely popular service phased out.

Nowadays comfort is the norm on Scotland’s rail-tracks with a timetable of regular scheduled services being the only option available to most fans.  Tales of 1980’s dusty multiple train carriages and hundreds of smoking, beer loaded football supporters carted onto disused train stock are now largely a thing of the past in these days of comfy seats and filtered coffee.

Granted there have been a few exceptions over recent years and some rail/club weekend only partnerships have occurred on the privatized network. Special trains were laid on for football fans from Aberdeen to get to the 2014 League Cup final at Celtic Park but criticism of the service laid on was plentiful after the event.  Overcrowded and disorganized were the two most common complaints from all age groups who travelled.

Moreover, where foreseen train network problems were identified beforehand Scottish train network providers have also pushed the boat out to ferry fans from Tayside to the Scottish cup final in Glasgow.

Down south in England those who police the train network the British Transport Police have warned that ferrying football fans on normal scheduled trains has placed a huge amount of pressure and ‘stretch’ on police resources.  With growing numbers of fans choosing to use normal train services the mixing of large numbers of football fans and non-football going passengers has seen arrests and complaints to train companies increase.

Likewise, in Scotland new rail byelaws have been enforced upon all train customers with BTP and Scotrail train staff enforcing a strict anti-social behavior policy on any passenger using the network.  No train passenger is allowed to drink on a train between 9pm and 10am. And, while the laws are not specifically directed at football supporters there have been increased incidences of Scottish fans being thrown off trains or arrested due to issues such as ‘singing’ and ‘chanting’ which can be deemed ‘disorderly conduct’ depending on tone by a train conductor.


The German Comparison

Whenever football fan and railway partnerships are mentioned the first comparison nearly always comes from German football.  With thousands more following football weekly in Germany compared to Scotland the comparison may be wholly unrealistic for some.  Moreover, the current train network in Germany is a highly sophisticated one with an extensive infrastructure that branches into the smallest of villages allowing more high and low stop frequency trains and numerous categories of trains from EC to Regional trains.

So how does it all look in Germany if you have a match ticket?

Free train travel is often included in the price of a match ticket purchased. Many if not all of the German Bundesliga clubs who have large numbers of travelling fans have a partnership agreement with respective rail transportation companies with clubs paying a reduced fare to the transport company and this fee is included as part of the price of the match ticket paid for by the fan. Sometimes the deal is indicated in the small print on the back of the ticket – €1.10 at Hertha BSC for instance.

The train travel/match ticket deals also extend to many Bundesliga Two clubs with the likes of VfB Stuttgart and 1860 Munich in the second tier at the moment as well as teams in 3.Liga the third tier of Germany football depending on the size of the club.  However, these are notable exceptions including at the fashionable Union Berlin from the German capital who do not offer such deals.

While fan travel schemes have all but disappeared in Scotland such travel schemes have been in place at many German clubs since the 1980’s. Indeed, ‘Football specials’ (or as they are known ‘Sonderzug’ in Germany) continue to be provided by Deutsche Bahn when an exceptionally large number of fans are expected to travel. This process allows the police to monitor travelling fans closely and keeps fans away from other train users.   Likewise, rather old train carriages continue to be used for the Sonderzug process.

With football club – football supporter liaise and coordination being integral to the German fan model often dialogue occurs before a match between the police, club and rail representatives.  Recognized club fan initiatives will negotiate for a special sonderzug train with Deutsche Bahn using evidence of a minimum amount of tickets being pre booked to reassure the train providers that the service does not turn into a loss-making business for Deutsche Bahn.


Clearly the West Ham board have given some thought to the train travel process available to its fans.  While the deal packages and type of package available to Hammers fans may not run truly parallel to those offered to supporters in Germany the ever rising cost of match tickets mean the availability of such deals to fans in Scotland would surely be welcome.  With weekend football often stretching the length and breadth of the weekend now from Friday night to Sunday at 3 the exploring the benefits of subsidized travel would surely be welcome to not only fans but clubs, police and other train users alike.

**Thanks to Michael Stoffl who provided us with factual information about football fan travel in Germany.



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