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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Stacey

Let's Talk About Attendances (Again)

The 2023/24 season is well underway, and football has reclaimed its rightful place as the most talked about sport on the planet.

Goals, assists, saves, mistakes and everything else you can imagine is covered to the finest of details and billions of social media posts go up every week focused on the beautiful game.

Amongst all the on the pitch talk lies the off the pitch chatter. The transfer window closing means there’s less of that to discuss but manager / player comments are always guaranteed interactions online, as is chat around supporters.

Be it a new, brilliant chant making its debut on the terraces, a funny or imaginative banner being unveiled or simply a supporter making a tit of themselves in the stands, crowds get their fair share of attention too.

Naturally there are more people talking about football online than there are going to games on a Saturday afternoon or Tuesday evening, who themselves usually end up taking to their phones after the match to give their thoughts on what they’ve just watched.

For Premier League clubs, particularly the biggest in that league who nowadays are as much global brands as they are local football clubs, the percentage of the total fanbase that ‘match going fans’ make up is getting smaller and smaller by the season.

Supporters abroad whose only exposure to quality football is what team Sky Sports decide to show most often start following these sides, and considering Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal tend to be on TV regularly they naturally accrue more followers.

Those who live thousands of miles away only have one way to communicate with fellow supporters, social media.

Equally, areas of Britain that maybe don’t have a top-level football club or are just close enough to one to maybe get the chance to go there once a season will have a large number of people pick the successful club over their local one.

Compare this to other Premier League sides like Burnley or Luton whose reputation on a global level is dwarfed by the bigger clubs. Both historically and recently a child in those towns could’ve easily chosen to support someone bigger and slightly local (Manchester United for Burnley, Arsenal for Luton) rather than align themselves with their local club.

The same goes for so many clubs across the country, particularly in the EFL. The Northwest comes to mind straight away as does Yorkshire and London, areas where huge clubs and smaller clubs co-exist and to some extent get in each other’s way.

If you’re a first-generation football fan and you get the pick between a team that plays in a bigger stadium, has better players and plays against the best in the world, or a smaller team with a smaller ground and less well known it’s no wonder so many ‘glory hunters’ exist.

This has plenty of knock-on effects. Firstly, financially the clubs take a hit as they lose out on potential tickets, shirts and merchandise sales. In contrast, more money goes to the already rich clubs and widens the gap more and more.

Secondly, the general feeling about a club can be hit if their fanbase isn’t the size of other clubs at their level. We’ve touched on this before in an article released last season, that’s worth a read if you haven’t already.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s irrelevant how many fans two teams have when they play each other. You don’t get extra goals or points for filling your ground in the same way you don’t gain points for winning trophies back in the day.

Having passionate, large fanbases is something to be proud of but so is having a passionate, small one.

A likely explanation behind ‘attendance slamming’ is a defence mechanism for bigger teams who are at risk of losing to smaller ones.

Sport, in fact life, is often about getting one over your opponents and rivals. The most obvious and important way of doing that in football is winning games against them, but if that can’t be achieved, attention turns to other things. More often than not it’s something to do with their fanbase.

Realistically there’s nothing wrong with doing this, everyone tries to get one over each other and when done in a funny way no one can have a problem with it.

But for people who genuinely believe attendances matter and use it to belittle teams without appreciating the context of the situation, that’s where the problem lies.

Insecurity is a funny thing with football fans. Most of us have it in some way but everyone chooses to show it in different ways. If the best option in your mind is taking jabs at people who support their club with passion and commitment, I’d suggest you’re in the wrong...

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