Barnsley aim to bridge the ever-growing gap

Nationwide League

Seventeen years ago today the Sheffield derby attracted nearly 50,000 spectators to Hillsborough, a record for the former Third Division. How the Football League could use a comparable clamour at the turnstiles today.

More than two-thirds of its 72 clubs are showing a drop in support this season, with the average for the current Third (nee Fourth) Division down by almost 15 per cent. Set against a continuing upward trend in the Premiership, where crowds have increased by three per cent, the figures provide unhappy vindication for those who predicted a widening gulf between the haves and have nots.

The self-styled elite might not be too enamoured by the prospect of Barnsley, with their 9,000 average, lowering the tone at the top level a la Wimbledon. Danny Wilson's side enter the second half of their season a point ahead of Bolton with a game in hand. Despite their reputation as Stoke's bogey team, a visit to the Victoria Ground will certainly test their mettle.

Stoke, well placed to push for a play-off place again, will be boosted by the news that Mark Stein is to stay on loan from Chelsea for a second month. An England international will also pledge himself to them before kick-off, although Dominic Cork, who flies to join Mike Atherton's men in New Zealand early next year, is to be paraded as the latest recruit to the Potters' supporters club rather than beefing up the midfield.

The First Division's first 30,000 attendance of the season is expected at Maine Road, where Manchester City will have their work cut out to complete a double over Port Vale. City, who continue to be linked with the former Nottingham Forest manager Frank Clark, have won only twice in the last nine matches. Franny Lee is likely to monitor events from Barbados; a case, perhaps, of fiddling while home yearns.

Vale are proving a formidable counter-attacking side away from home, reflecting great credit on John Rudge's resourceful stewardship in a 13- year reign during which City have gone through nine full-time managers (not to mention "temps" like Phil Neal). Rudge may, however, be without his top scorer, lifelong City supporter Tony Naylor, who has a hamstring injury.

Another team faring better on their travels are Wolves. Remarkably, they have gained twice as many points away from Molineux, from one less game. That is hardly deterring the public from parting with their money. Three years ago next Saturday they began a run of 70 successive home gates of 20,000 or more. Their opponents that day, Oxford, are back in town this afternoon. With both clubs in the play-off zone, Wolves anticipate a turn- out in excess of 27,000 for the first time since the match against Leicester in February.

Bradford City, whose 85 per cent rise in crowds is easily the biggest in Britain, should be close to capacity for the bottom-versus-top meeting with Sheffield United. Bolton, down to second spot after eight games without a win, go to 24th-placed Grimsby in urgent need of points to go with the plaudits they are attracting.

Although no club in the Second Division boasts a five-figure average, attendances are nearly nine per cent up. The top two, Brentford and Luton, are both away today, giving Bury a chance to close the gap. A win over Crewe would keep alive the bizarre possibility of a club with fewer than 5,000 regular patrons swapping places with neighbouring Manchester City.

Fulham, Third Division leaders both at the gate and on the pitch, will expect to maintain their progress at Exeter's expense. Peter Shilton, who helped Leyton Orient draw nearly 8,000 last Sunday, may actually suffer a slight fall-off for Northampton's visit as their legendary goalkeeper plays League match No 1,001. While that figure is normally associated with spotless carpets, Shilton will settle for a clean sheet, his 334th.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron appeal to the audience during the Question Time special
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
Michelle Dockery plays Lady Mary in Downton Abbey
peopleBut who comes top of the wish list?
Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, right, with Lib Dem candidate Jane Dodds in Newtown, Powys, as part of her tour in support of the party’s female candidates
general electionNick Clegg's wife has impressed during the campaign
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living