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News & Comment

Outside the Box: Fans vote with their feet as the credit crunch puts bite on gates

Is the credit crunch beginning to have an effect on football attendances? It was noticeable that of the 10 home teams in last weekend's Premier League fixtures, no fewer than six recorded their lowest League gate of the season. In the case of Everton's game with Fulham, it was the smallest crowd at Goodison Park (31,728) since February 2002, and Newcastle's Monday-night match with Aston Villa proved the worst attended there in six years. Significantly, both those matches were live on television, which also contributed to a small away following – in Fulham's case a paltry 275. Taken overall, however, it does appear that the continuous rise in gates since the Premier League began 16 years ago may finally have peaked. Last year's average among the 20 clubs was 36,076 per game; this season that figure is down to 35,094, a loss of more than 100,000 people so far. It would take a good PR man to put a positive slant on those figures; so here is a good PR man, the Premier League's Dan Johnson. "The average is slightly down, but the occupancy rate of 92 per cent is exactly the same," he says. "There are varying factors at work. For instance, the three promoted clubs this season have between them crowds of about 5,000 fewer than the three relegated clubs. We're one [postponed] game down at present, which is a Manchester United home game, and that changes things. Public transport hasn't always been at its best. [True; try travelling between London and Merseyside on a Saturday]. And you do find that gates increase as the season goes on." We shall see.

Tigers' sightings on the up

No worries on that score at Hull City, where the recent home gate against Chelsea of 24,906 was a club record for the KC Stadium, and illustrates the impact made by miracle worker Phil Brown. Meanwhile, they continue with plans to paint the world, er, black and amber. Shirt sponsors Karoo have started a campaign to discover expat fans all overthe globe, and sightings of Tigers have so far been recorded as far away as New Zealand (11,650 miles from Humberside), Australia (10,485 miles), Thailand (9,849) and Venezuela (4,787).

Not like watching Paint dry

At the other end of the scale, teams in the lower divisions are embracing the sort of initiatives that Premier League clubs may soon have to consider. A good example is for matches in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, the latest incarnation of the Freight Rover Trophy, Auto Windscreens Shield, LDV Vans Trophy, etc, the sole attraction of which appears to be a Wembley final for smaller clubs (last season's crowd for Grimsby against MK Dons: 56,618). To attract younger fans and families, home teams are encouraged to provide free admission for under-16s, kick-off if possible at 7pm and go straight to penalties without extra time. No fielding reserve teams, either; every side must contain six of the 11 players who have made most first-team appearances to that date.

Tim should be committed

Post-match interviews at Tottenham Hotspur, like the football, are a lot livelier since Harry Redknapp replaced Juande Ramos, for sure. And coach Tim Sherwood has added a new dimension to an old football cliché by suggesting he is "one million per cent" committed to the job. Any advance on a million?