League attendances at highest since 1960

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Football League crowds hit a 45-year high in the 2004-05 season, with attendances in the Championship alone matching those in Italy's Serie A, according to figures released yesterday.

The 1,656 matches in the regular season in England's three non-élite divisions attracted 16.4 million fans through the turnstiles. That represented a three per cent increase on 2003-04, and gave the League its highest gates since 1959-60.

The Championship registered a 10 per cent rise in attendances to 9.6m, the highest for the second tier of English football since 1952-53. The average attendance at Championship games was 17,410, and aggregate gates in the division matched those for Italy's top tier.

Crowds in the Championship are more than double those in the equivalent competitions in France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. They are also considerably higher than the 13,500 that, on average, watch the same level of football in Germany.

"It is very encouraging that more and more people want to watch our clubs play," Sir Brian Mawhinney, the League's chairman, said.

"These figures are a fitting reflection of the entertainment our clubs have provided and the imaginative efforts they make to attract fans to their games.

"Looking forward to next season, we intend to build on these figures by working with our clubs on a further programme of attendance-driving initiatives, so that the next generation of football supporters decide to follow their local club."

* Viewing figures for the FA Cup final peaked at 13.7m - the biggest final audience for almost a decade.