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.

Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable