Still the people's game? Only if you earn more than £30,000 a year

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The Independent Online

Proof, if it were needed, that football's days as a sport for the working classes are over arrived in a survey of the Premier League's clubs yesterday, showing that nearly a third of British season ticket holders earn more than £30,000 a year.

Proof, if it were needed, that football's days as a sport for the working classes are over arrived in a survey of the Premier League's clubs yesterday, showing that nearly a third of British season ticket holders earn more than £30,000 a year.

The salaries of Chelsea's fans, for example, revealed in the survey by Leicester University's Sir Norman Chester Centre, more than befit the team's expensively assembled squad of imported players. Of its season ticket holders who responded to the survey, 60 per cent earn more than £30,000 a year, and they each spend an unsurpassed £1,306 annually following their team - more than the supporters of Wimbledon and Sheffield Wednesday combined.

Stamford Bridge supporters need their wealth, too. They are forced to pay the highest season ticket prices in the Premiership at an average of £594, compared to the national average of £317. It is of little surprise that Chelsea are losing fans from the lower income scale, according to the survey.

Three more London clubs head the fans' earnings table - Tottenham, Wimbledon and Arsenal - although the new soccer wealth is not confined to the South. Leeds, Coventry and Manchester United all boast 28 per cent or more season ticket holders with £30,000 salaries. Of all the English fans surveyed, 28 per cent earn more than £30,000, compared with 19 per cent two years ago. At the other end of the table come Sheffield Wednesday, Liverpool, Celtic and Newcastle.

"We want to make sure that Premier League football remains accessible to all and we would be concerned if this trend continues," said Richard Scudamore, the league's chief executive. The league was sensitive to suggestions that the working classes were being shut out and even suggested the Chelsea fan sample might have skewed its salary figure. "There are fewer miners and steel workers in society, let alone at grounds," a league spokesman said. "It's a complex social mix these days."

The Premier League did admit to concern about the difficulty of attracting fans from ethnic minorities, with 97.8 per cent of fans describing themselves as "white British". Wimbledon and Leicester have just broken through the 1 per cent barrier for British Asian season-ticket holders, although in Leicester one in three city residents now have an Asian background and the club is credited with considerable work in attracting them. John Williams, the report's author, said: "Liverpool have attracted Asian supporters. But they are supporters who travel to the game, not local supporters, because Liverpool are perceived as a national team."

There are no reported British Asian season-ticket holders in the samples at Blackburn (which has a large ethnic population) and Everton, while racist abuse of players was also most likely to be reported at Goodison Park, Everton's ground.

The survey of 22,000 fans does show many new female supporters. One in seven Premiership fans and 33 per cent of all new fans - those who started attending in the past five years - are female. Midlands clubs do best at attracting women, with Derby, Leicester and Nottingham Forest the top three.

Contrary to football fans' mythology about the average Manchester United supporter, 66 per cent of respondents were born within 20 miles of its Old Trafford stadium, though on local support, the club is towards the bottom of the league. Only Leeds, Wimbledon and Southampton have a lower percentage of local support.

Encouragingly for the organisers of England's 2006 World Cup bid, more than 70 per cent of fans also think hooliganism is "no real problem", while at smaller grounds such as Wimbledon, Southampton and Charlton, worries appear to have disappeared.

Surprisingly, the importance of winning local derbies is also diminishing. And for traditionalists who seek out fans the way they used to be, a journey to Newcastle is recommended. The club's fans are not big earners - the supporters of only three clubs fare worse on salary - and only Celtic attracts fewer women.

The last vestiges of partisan, working class support are alive and well in Newcastle, with figures showing that more of its fans are born within 20 miles of the ground than those of any other club. And while Chelsea season ticket holders are the Premiership's fourth worst for buying replica football jerseys, Newcastle's fans top the table - a fact long since proved by the legendary sea of black and white colours which sweeps the city on match days.

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