Fans flock through gates at record rate

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The Independent Online

Reports of football's demise appear to have been exaggerated. According to the phone-ins, fans are disenchanted with the monopoly of the "Big Four", with players' wages and behaviour, with ticket prices, with foreign owners, and probably with the quality of their half-time pie.

Yet despite all this they came through the turnstiles last season in greater numbers than for decades. At 29,939,632, crowds across all four divisions are the highest since 1968, when the English game was still riding the boom which followed the 1966 World Cup triumph.

Average crowds in the top flight are, at 36,144, the biggest for more than 50 years. Not since 1949-50, when Portsmouth won a thrilling title race ahead of Wolves, have gates been as good. The Premier League's overall attendance of 13,734,837 is a competition record, and the highest top-flight aggregate since 1972-73 (when there were 82 more matches).

There is room for growth, but not much without more stadiums being developed, or the controversial expansion overseas. Clubs reported 92.8 per cent seat occupancy with Arsenal brimful at 99.5 per cent. Even Derby County, despite their team's failings achieved 96.7 per cent.

The Championship, having lost Leeds United and Sunderland, suffered a six per cent drop in gates last season but, with 9.4m spectators it was still the fourth best supported league in Europe behind the German Bundesliga, the Premier League and Spain's La Liga. Yes, ahead of Italy's Serie A, which is still to finish.

League One, boosted by the presence of Leeds, recorded the highest gates (4.4m at an average 7,992) since 1971-72, when Aston Villa dropped down for a season in the third tier. Lord Mawhinney, chairman of the Football League, said: "These are another set of impressive figures. I would like to offer my appreciation to everybody that has gone to watch league football this season. Our competitions thrive on the passion and loyalty that fans give to their clubs."

On the up: Rising attendances

2007-08 Football League Attendance Figures (Figures for 2006-07 in brackets)

PREMIER LEAGUE

Total 13,734,837 (13,092,756)

Average 36,144 (34,349)

Percentage Change +4.9

CHAMPIONSHIP

Total 9,396,316 (10,058,018)

Average 17,022 (18,221)

Percentage Change -6.6

LEAGUE ONE

Total 4,411,413 (4,135,690)

Average 7,992 (7,492)

Percentage Change +6.7

LEAGUE TWO

Total 2,397,066 (2,280,222)

Average 4,343 (4,131)

Percentage Change +5.1

TOTAL (all four leagues)

Total 29,939,632 (29,576,686)

Average 14,705 (14,527)

Percentage Change +1.2

CARLING CUP

Total 1,333,889 (1,100,403)

Average 14,343 (11,832)

Percentage Change +21.2

JOHNSTONE'S PAINT TROPHY

Total 240,003 (211,047)

Average 4,898 (4,307)

Percentage Change +13.7

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