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Martin Greig unpicks the football attendance debate
This article from Bromley’s club photographer, Martin Greig, was written in response to the mention of attendances in The Bad portion of this week’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Over to you, Martin.
I find attendance debates interesting. A glance at footballwebpages.co.uk, taking its information with a light pinch of salt, shows that just over five years ago, Bromley’s average attendance was around 1,100. This rose to 1,400 during the 2017/2018 season, then 1,500 for the 2018/2019 season.
There was a big jump post-Covid. 2021/2022 saw an average of just shy of 2,000, while 2022/2023 saw an average of 2,600. That last figure was no doubt boosted by the club’s £97 season-ticket offer, but I think it was a huge achievement, regardless.
The average this season, albeit early doors, is 2,400. Season tickets aren’t £97 this year, but another generous early-bird season ticket offer, twinned with ongoing success on the pitch, has clearly had a positive effect.
It has been well documented that non-league attendances have experienced a post-lockdown renaissance. This could be down to any number of factors, but I believe one of the main reasons is disillusionment, chiefly with the Premier League. But that won’t be the case for everybody.
During a cost-of-living crisis, the perceived value for money at non-league level could be a draw for some. Others might be attracted to the community aspect of a smaller club, where you can escape the toxic nature of mainstream media and social media to interact with a club on a personal level.
Based on my Scottish fitba* yardstick, Bromley is an affluent area with lots to do in and around it. My hometown of Kirkcaldy, by comparison, is a working-class place that’s still reeling from the loss of the coal industry and the effects of globalisation on small towns. On the face of it, Kirkaldy has little to offer. Public transport is crap, the high street is dead, and there’s not even a cinema.
What Kirkcaldy does have, as you may remember from my previous article, is my beloved Raith Rovers. Kirkcaldy has a population of 50,000, compared to Bromley’s 340,000, yet the Rovers have averaged between 1,400 to 2,000 over the last 20 years. This period has seen them alternating between the second and third tiers of Scottish football.
In terms of hardcore support, Raith Rovers have around 1,000 dedicated souls who can’t imagine themselves anywhere else at 3pm on a Saturday. These are the fans who, although subject to slow attrition, stick it out through thick and thin. It would be interesting to know what Bromley’s hardcore number is. I suppose the club might find out if they ever slid back down the pyramid.
Dunfermline are Raith Rovers bitter rivals. They come from a similarly sized town just 6 miles down the road. Despite the similarity in population, the Pars have historically averaged 3,000+ during the same period. Why the difference? Dunfermline have a little success to their name.
7,583 Dunfermline vs Raith Rovers 26.08.2023
In addition to sustained periods in the Scottish Premier League, older Pars fans tell teary-eyed tales of Scottish Cup wins in 1961 (managed by Jock Stein) and 1968. They also had some very respectable forays into European competitions during this era. This foundation has created a larger group of hardcore fans; fans whose fathers and grandfathers were there when the club was the pride of Fife.
But the tide might be turning. As of this season, Raith Rovers are averaging a staggering 3,000 fans per game. This can be attributed to the new boardroom setup, which has offered fans a sense of hope in the wake of a series of scandals.
When I visited the club in August, I could feel the buzz in the air. And given Rovers have won four out of their first five games, I think the players are feeling it too. After a long time treading water, Raith Rovers finally seem to be going places. Much like Bromley.
FA Trophy win aside, Bromley haven’t had much to shout about in recent decades, and they will always be competing to wrestle fans from the numerous Premier League and Football League teams on their doorstep. You also have to consider that there are shopping centres, cinemas, and restaurants within easy reach, and London itself is just a 20-minute train ride away.
These distractions are always going to stack up against a club that’s trying to grow its fanbase. In view of this, I think it's magnificent that they're averaging 2,400 so far this season. Boreham Wood are in a similar situation yet only average around 1,100 a game, so Bromley are comparatively leaps and bounds ahead. But with business costs rising, every extra fan through the turnstiles makes a difference.
In The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Machel asked the question: “What more can Bromley do to gain support in the borough?”
During a cost-of-living crisis, the season-ticket offers the club has put forward have been warmly received. In truth, I’m not sure what more they could do.
Being consistent with pop-ups and advertising on the high street seems like a good idea. It’s also important to get the word out in schools and local communities. If you can catch fans in their formative years, then they’re much more likely to continue into adulthood. But the club already know all of this.
Annoyingly, Bromley’s old rivals Sutton United might have the answer to Machel’s question. Their attendances have been comparable to Bromley’s for many years, but promotion to League Two pushed their average past the 3,000 mark.
Is promotion the only way forward for Bromley? Have your day in the comments section.
* ‘Fitba’ is Scottish slang for football. The Scots have the highest football attendance per capita in the world, so they probably deserve their own word for it.
Thanks for taking the time to read the article by Martin.
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