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
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
Researchers have said it could take only two questions to identify a problem with alcohol
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
News
i100
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
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

LSA (afterschool club) vacancy in Newport

£40 per day + Travel Scheme : Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job: Our client ...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style