Attendance slump shows Irish football fan remains an export-only commodity

Mon, Jul 11 2016

And the crowd goes wild! Credit: Steve Alfred

As I sit here writing this article a day after Portugal sealed their first ever major tournament title, I feel lucky that I got to spend two weeks over in France experiencing all EURO 2016 had to offer.

 

Along with three Extratime.ie reporters and, on occasion, our various friends, I got to go from Paris to Bordeaux and then onto Lille before making the hard call to leave two days before Ireland’s final game against France.

 

I got to experience going to a major tournament game for the first time in my life, I visited fan zones in all the cities I stayed in, and chatted to all kinds of fans from all kinds of places.

 

The Irish fans have been much praised in the media over the last few weeks, and while they seem to have left a positive impression, I rarely found myself in the central locations they partied.

 

Instead, I watched games with the fans of the teams playing and I watched the matches in smaller French bars away from the Irish swell. During my time at the Euros, one constant question was asked by fans, both Irish and from elsewhere, was what team do I support?

 

I support Shelbourne and I have done so since 1987. I don’t have any other teams. I enjoy watching some other sides around the world and I’d like to see some others have success but if they lose it means nothing to me.

 

“I support Shelbourne,” I’d say. Most non-Irish fans didn’t know the club but would accept my answer that I support an Irish club. I did meet some who knew us from our European exploits during the 2000’s. Some would randomly say Shamrock Rovers, or Bohemians, having either come across the teams via European competitions or from betting.

 

Unfortunately when Irish fans heard my answer, most either looked confused or asked me who my real team (meaning English team) was?

 

When I explained I had no other team bar Shels, I was looked at with a sense of suspicion and, at times, a disbelief that I could only support an Irish team.

 

The questioners, often donned head to toe in green, in a foreign country to support Ireland, couldn’t get behind the idea I supported a club from the country they would represent in the stands and cry tears of joy for at times during Euro 2016.

 

I rarely try to convert people to the cause of supporting League of Ireland – you might get one or two but nothing close to what’s needed to boost the league. That’s not going to happen unless there is a focused, intelligent re-imagining of the league with a budget for marketing, a focus on infrastructure and a commitment to developing the talent on this island.

 

The Euros re-ignited a fire of belief in the Irish team and that bounce will be felt when the qualifiers for World Cup 2018 kick off later this year. It will not be felt in our League of Ireland stadiums however.

 

It will not matter that the Ireland team was made up from players who cut their teeth in Turner’s Cross, Dalymount Park, Tolka Park, The Showgrounds and elsewhere.

 

It’s a footnote to most Ireland-going fans. They don’t see it as a reason to go to a domestic league game and, to be honest, it is the job of the clubs and the FAI to make it a reason rather than hope for some miraculous mind-set change.

 

The League of Ireland took a break for the first few weeks of Euro 2016 but came back a couple weeks before it ended. Instead of any boost from Ireland’s campaign, the crowds have dropped to the lowest all season.

 

Gameweek 17 and 18 recorded the lowest average attendances. It’s important to point out however that these Gameweeks had seven and eight games out of a possible 10 played due to Europa League participation.

 

So, as not to be all sensational with an overall or average count, we can look at the gates of the clubs that played compared to their previous home games.

 

6 of the 15 games over the last two weeks registered their lowest crowd of the season. 6 more registered their second-lowest crowds of the 2016 season.

 

Only Waterford United and Finn Harps seems to do ok with the Blues recording their third highest crowd, although it was just 356. Harps hit a decent 1,030 for their game against Galway.

 

In total, 11,103 people went to League of Ireland games over the last two Gameweeks. There was one midweek game – Dundalk beat Longford Town 4-3 in a cracker of a game. 1,919 attended the game. This was Dundalk’s lowest home crowd of the season.

 

Was it a mistake to play two rounds of the league before the Euros ended? Was it also a case that people who would pay to go to games may have been either in France (or broke from the trip), on holidays, too busy watching the other Euro games, or just couldn’t click back into League of Ireland mode after the break?

 

Regardless of the answers, the truth is all clubs need revenue, but even more so after a tough barren spell of no games. What was not needed was for the clubs to register some of the lowest crowds of the season.

 

Alarm bells keep ringing each week with attendance figures but is anyone listening?

 

The breakdown of the Gameweek attendances are below. The red figures are estimates. Below the Gameweek totals are a breakdown of all the Gameweeks since the start of the season.

 

 

Home Team

Away Team

Attendance

Derry City

Dundalk

1,500

Limerick

UCD

847

Shelbourne

Cobh Ramblers

469

Drogheda United

Waterford United

382

Bray Wanderers

Wexford Youths

350

Longford Town

Bohemians

296

Cabinteely

Athlone Town

100

TOTAL GAMEWEEK 17 ATTENDANCE

3,944

 

Average Overall

563

 

Average Premier

715

 

Average First

450

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home Team

Away Team

Attendance

Sligo Rovers

St. Patrick's Athletic

1,583

Bohemians

Bray Wanderers

1,205

Finn Harps

Galway United

1,030

Wexford Youths

Cork City

525

Waterford United

Limerick

356

Cobh Ramblers

Drogheda United

224

UCD

Cabinteely

175

Athlone Town

Shelbourne

142

TOTAL GAMEWEEK 18 ATTENDANCE

5,240

 

Average Overall

655

 

Average Premier

1086

 

Average First

224

 

 

Gameweek

Total

No. of Games

Average

Premier Average

First Average

Gameweek 1

19,123

10

1,912

2,598

884

Gameweek 2

13,979

9

1,553

2,089

481

Gameweek 3

9,175

6

1,529

1,529

0

Gameweek 4

15,727

10

1,573

2,126

743

Gameweek 5

6,836

9

760

1,041

408

Gameweek 6

9,289

8

1,161

1,446

686

Gameweek 7

10,521

10

1,052

1,450

455

Gameweek 8

12,249

10

1,225

1,653

584

Gameweek 9

12,643

10

1,264

1,917

285

Gameweek 10

11,765

10

1,177

1,531

645

Gameweek 11

8,437

10

844

1,192

321

Gameweek 12

7,205

6

1,269

1,269

0

Gameweek 13

10,302

10

1,030

1,324

590

Gameweek 14

8,811

10

881

1,259

315

Gameweek 15

13,151

9

1,461

1,835

536

Gameweek 16

9,161

10

916

1,336

286

Gameweek 17

3,944

7

563

715

450

Gameweek 18

5,240

8

655

1,086

224