Football: Premier gate blow

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BESET BY internal bickering and threats of a breakaway from the breakaway, the Premier League suffered yet another blow yesterday with confirmation that the customer finds it all a bit of a turn-off.

Attendances for the first six weeks of the season show a drop of 11.7 per cent compared with last year's First Division.

It was hard not to discern the chuckles emanating from the Football League where, in intriguing contrast, gates have risen by an average of 0.5 per cent - a statistic small but beautiful for those left in charge.

Rick Parry, the chief executive of the progeny league, took heart that the disappointing figures might divert the warring factions towards the need to put their differences to one side in favour of an improved product.

'When you are up to your neck in alligators it's difficult to remember you were there to drain the swamp,' Parry said. 'We have been given the chance of a brand new start and the opportunity to put right all that was wrong before, and so far we're not achieving.'

The Premier League is averaging gates of 19,895, the first time in five seasons that the game at the highest echelon has dropped below 20,000, and compares to 22,522 a year ago. Clubs will point to reduced capacities at Arsenal and Manchester United, but critics of saturation television coverage will take heart.

The new Second Division (last season's Third) shows the biggest increase downstairs with average gates up by 11.5 per cent.