Wembley beckons distantly; will anyone bother to go?

John McCormick:
John McCormick: glass half full; cup – half empty

As the new year got under way I began speculatively looking at ticket prices. I didn’t get as far as train timetables before a virus crept up on me and knocked me sideways. Today, I went out for the first time in over a week. I’m back now, obviously, and feeling the better for it, but any lingering thoughts of Burnley, or even Southport-Gateshead are gone.

If I lived in the North East I’d be going to the Burnley game, and I’d have been there against Leeds and Fulham, but that’s  easy  for me to spout. To paraphrase the late Mandy Rice-Davies, I would say that wouldn’t I.

But had I chosen not to go what excuses could I have thought up? Well, here are some for starters:

There is football on TV throughout the weekend of the FA Cup. Three games on the 3rd round Sunday, in fact, then one on Monday, and one on Tuesday. None of them were SAFC, of course, but cup matches have long been known for engaging neutrals. Why bother to go to a windy, cold stadium when I can sit in front of the TV and watch some giant killers?

I could have done more or less the same when Fulham came – Man Utd on the Friday, two games on the Saturday, (including ITV Wales showing Blackburn -Swansea at 3pm with lots of satellites being able to get it) more on Sunday and then another game last night. Televised football is all well and good, but isn’t there just a bit too much these days?

Especially when going costs money. Yes, cup matches are fairly cheap, more so with concessionary prices. But when you’re on the minimum wage and not eligible for concessions, when Christmas has just gone and money’s short, when the heating bills are coming in, when Liverpool are at the SOL next, then it just might not be cheap enough.

I actually can afford to go but we’re crap at home. OK away, but crap at home, and didn’t Hull, and Leeds, and Fulham prove that? (I made it to the North-East three times in 2013. I saw us draw 0-0 against Crystal Palace last season, when we couldn’t break them down, beat Stoke in our only home win so far this season and then self-destruct against Arsenal). As Jane Austen never said “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of an entertaining team”. Is a lack of entertainment and fun responsible for a lack of attendance. Could there be a link?

We were playing Leeds and Fulham in the cup. Who wants to see them?Their football’s not attractive. (And  I intend no disrespect). Leeds might be enemies but so are Hull these days, and Everton, and don’t forget the Mags. The truth is, home games just aren’t that good to watch, not on a cold day when there’s football on the telly and the opposition is  nothing special.

All in all, I thought the turnout against Leeds respectable, especially when I looked at Bolton v Wigan; two rival clubs within spitting distance: 16,788 attended.

And then I looked at London, which has a population of over 8 million.
Brentford v Brighton; the home team going for it, tremendous cup history recently and the other club an easy touch. 8,5428 of the 8 million people on the doorstep went
Charlton v Blackburn; a long way for Rovers fans but those 8 million who didn’t go to Brentford could have gone to Charlton. Only 8,727 did.
Fulham v Wolves: The same 8 million, how many turned up here? 11,879.
That’s possibly a low attendance because they all went to Millwall. Oh, no, they only got 5,470.

The next day Arsenal v Hull had under 60,000, while Chelsea just scraped over 40.000 (Ok, that’s near enough a full house) and QPR didn’t quite make 13,000.

These teams covered the centre and extremities of the city and include the cup holders and PL leaders, yet they managed under 150,000 spectators (less than 2% of the population) between them, over two days.

The population of Sunderland is around 275,000; 25,000 home supporters is almost 10% of the population. The combined population of the counties of Durham and Tyne and Wear (both sides of the Tyne) is about 1.6 million. 25,000 home supporters is about 1.5%. That might not sound much but it’s comparable to what the London clubs managed, and much better than their teams achieved once Arsenal and Chelsea are take out. And bear in mind that County Durham alone is about twice the area of Greater London and does not have such good transports links.

The entire population of Sunderland wouldn't fill Wembley three times.
The entire population of Sunderland wouldn’t fill Wembley three times.

I haven’t had the inclination to crunch numbers after the fourth round. An attendance of 23,000 wasn’t so good, of course, in comparison to Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs, Birmingham (at home to deadly rivals W Brom), even Southampton, and it’s a warning to Gus and Mr Ellis that something is amiss. But in comparison with Blackburn, five-times winners – who didn’t manage 6,000, or Aston Villa, whose 27,000 against Bournmouth relects badly on the country’s second city – we didn’t do too badly.

In reality, anyone wanting to complain about football crowds might be better starting elsewhere. And anyone wanting to complain about our crowds might bear in mind the weather, the time of year, the competing attractions and the economic situation. Over 40,000 for every PL game followed by 30,000 then 23,000 for two January cup games is nothing to sniff at.



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3 thoughts on “Wembley beckons distantly; will anyone bother to go?”

  1. I take on board all of John’s comments and comparisons but am still puzzled by the size of the crowd against Fulham and to a slightly lesser extent, Leeds. Yes, we are struggling – especially at home – yet it was odds on that Defoe would be making his home debut. If you were a concession, like me, it would cost you £5 simply to see him. If you couldn’t/wouldn’t go yourself could you not send an under 16 along for £5? I know times are hard and it may well be that people simply don’t have even £5 spare but I feel it is a pity that the efforts that the club are making to get people to home games are not being matched by the traditionally superb supporters.

  2. The home league games are boosted by free tickets . Im not suggesting for a second that its 15,000 ,the difference between a 25, 000 cup crowd and a premier crowd ,but I’d guess its at least a couple of thousand . They’re freely available if you know where to look and are regularly given away to NHS staff and University students . I’m NHS and I’ve paid for my season ticket for decades and I’ve being to both cup games this year but if your not a regular attender with SAFC in your blood its being enough to put you off . There were roughly 4,000 Leeds fans in the previous round so our cup crowd hasn’t really dropped that much but money , the weather and woefull performances take their toll .

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