Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
Want a reason to be optimistic? Look no further. I declare that we’re heading in the right direction, and if you don’t want to rely on my hunches, don’t worry. I’ve got the maths to back me up!
Quite simply, a club of our scale has to get out of the National League sooner rather than later. The attendance statistics for the season show this.
We’ll finish the season with the second biggest average crowd in the division and hopefully one of the teams in first and third, Grimsby Town and Tranmere Rovers, will go up through the play-offs, removing one of the other big clubs.
The promoted teams will be replaced by Dagenham and Redbridge and York City. With an average crowd of just over 3,000, the latter would be fourth in the National League attendance table, but that’s still nearly 40% lower than our crowds, while Dagenham get about half the crowds the Minstermen attract. Remember that those figures are boosted by the fact that there are regularly decent away followings in the Football League, while only four teams brought more than 200 fans to The Racecourse, so our average crowd is pretty much all our own work.
After the top three, the attendances drop off spectacularly. For proof of that, have a guess what position Chester occupy in the league table of average attendances. I’ll admit I was shocked to see they are sixth, a handful of fans behind champions Cheltenham Town. I’m not trying to patronise Chester by pointing this out, but it is a surprise to see them so high.
Average crowds drop off drastically when the big three are taken out of the equation. Only seven clubs are above the overall mean, and the seventh team, Eastleigh, only just scrape over the line. Indeed, the club with the fourth highest average attendance, Lincoln City, are two thousand behind us.
To put the extent to which we’re a National League giant in terms of support another way, the highest home attendances of nineteen clubs were lower than our average.
Of course this season has illustrated that small crowds don’t prevent success.. Going into the final weekend Grimsby are joined in the play-off spots by Forest Green, tenth in the attendance table with an average below 1,700, Dover, nineteenth with an average of exactly 1,000, and Braintree, who average 720 and are above only Borehamwood!
Clearly the achievements of the latter two clubs are remarkable, but while they are proof that a club can succeed without the expected fanbase, surely sustained success requires support. Their feats are remarkable but surely unsustainable in the long term, whereas a club which consistently exceeds its peers in terms of attendance has a higher chance of being promoted in the long term.
We have been the opposite of Dover and Braintree recently, failing to fulfil our financial potential with finishes of seventeenth and eleventh. Yet statistically this is good news, as we should revert to the mean. Indeed, the improvement this season suggests we’re beginning to do so. I’m telling you, logic suggests that things are looking up!