'It's not just the atmosphere, it's your team. That's why you come'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
What's the difference between watching your football at Stamford Bridge and at the White Hart, 200 metres down the road? Up to pounds 40 a head, depending on where you choose to sit.

Not that it deterred nearly 28,000 from turning up at Stamford Bridge yesterday, giving Chelsea a close-to-capacity crowd. But an increasing number of people are choosing the pub over the live experience.

"I'm not going to pay pounds 30 or pounds 40 when I can watch it in here for nothing," said one fan at the pub. "I could have bought tickets on Friday," said another, "but I wanted to see the game with my girlfriend and shelling out for both of us is daft when we can see it live anyway."

Fans at the ground felt that although tickets were expensive (at an average of more than pounds 20 a head), you cannot beat being there. "It's not just the atmosphere, it's your team. That's why you come," said one. Others had reservations. A regular, Jeremy Palmer, said: "If you were bringing a family, it would be different. There's no point paying that money unless the people watching are completely dedicated. You've got to weigh it up."

Football and TV have changed dramatically since 1936 when the sport first appeared on the revolutionary medium, and the attendance at games was higher than the number of people owning televisions. Sixty years on, television could be said to have revolutionised the sport.

Income from satellite coverage alone (pounds 670m from Sky between now and 2001) has led to greater wealth, more ambitious investments in foreign talent and increased interest. Since the Premier League's debut in 1992, crowds are up 30 per cent. But the patterns of who watches where are changing. "The effect of televised matches on home attendance depends on who you're playing," said Lee Preece, the assistant manager at Aston Villa ticket office. "But it certainly does affect support at the away games. The Chelsea game cost our fans pounds 20 a seat with no concessions for children. If you're taking your lad, by the time you've also paid to get there and back, it's getting quite expensive. Some will prefer to watch it on TV."

For other televised games so far this season, some clubs have had significantly reduced gates. Sheffield Wednesday's crowd of 17,657 for their televised game against Leicester was 9,000 fewer than either of their other home games this season, and 7,000 fewer than their average last season. Leeds had 25,860 at their televised game with Wimbledon, 5,000 fewer than either of their other home games and 7,000 down on last season's home average.

Blackburn sold 19,214 for their televised encounter with Derby, 4,000 fewer than their next smallest game this season and 8,000 down on last season's average home turnout.

Of the near-28,000 capacity at Chelsea yesterday, 7,000 were season ticket- holders, 1,750 were allocated to away fans, and the prospect of seeing Chelsea go top drew in the rest.