Football:League praises play-offs for growing attendances

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The Football League was yesterday celebrating the attendance explosion that has attracted four and a half million new fans to the game over the last decade.

Since the advent of the play-offs and the improvement in stadium facilities following the dark days of Heysel and Hillsborough, officials at Lytham insist the oldest league competition in the world has gone from strength to strength despite the Premier League breakaway five seasons ago. The figures back this up with attendances climbing steadily in the 10 seasons since the play-off system was introduced.

In the 1985-86 season, the old First, Second and Third Divisions attracted 7,450,723 spectators. This year the final total is 11,986,723 a figure that does not include play-off games but which represents a 60.3 percent increase in just 11 seasons.

It makes the Football League the best supported competition, in any sport, in Britain and their spokesman, Chris Hull, said: "We believe the play- offs have been the key to the growth because they have opened up opportunities for more clubs, while there has been a real improvement in the way clubs have started marketing themselves.

"It's also fair to say that in Britain we now have the finest group of stadia in the world. That has helped make the game more attractive to family groups and women and children"

Average attendances in the First Division have jumped 52.2 percent since 1985-86 to 12,327, with the Second Division increasing 33.6 percent to 6,037 and a 31.3 percent improvement taking place in the Third Division to 3,351.

Authorities in Romania have detained 59 fans and fined 1,000 others since supporters set fire to a stand in a Bucharest stadium before a derby match last weekend.

A spokesman for the police said yesterday that an inquiry was continuing into the actions of the 59 fans held in Bucharest jails since last Saturday's match in which Steaua Bucharest beat arch rivals Dinamo. The others, charged with minor public order offences, were fined the equivalent of pounds 2 to pounds 11 in a country where average monthly wages stand at about pounds 50.

More than 700 seats were destroyed and police herded some 2,000 supporters out of the stadium into parking lots to identify troublemakers. There were no injuries and the match was delayed only briefly.

Police said Dinamo Bucharest supporters had brought incendiary devices made of soft drink cans filled with varnish into Steaua's ground. Devices were concealed in drums to dupe the thousands of police drafted in, in anticipation of trouble.

Steaua, traditionally representing the military, and Dinamo, associated with the police, have a long history of bitter rivalry.