Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Fri 1 June 2007

Time to sit down and be counted...

If the Carlos Tevez affair is responsible for one thing, it's the slanging match which has since erupted between the fans of all those clubs involved.

Followers of Wigan Athletic, Sheffield United et al pointed the finger at West Ham claiming they'd cheated on the rest of the Premier League, and in return West Ham fans turned to Wigan with suggestions that they're a small club not fit for purpose in the top flight.

And what's the reasoning behind that particular argument? Well let's just say it appears to be a lack of support on the part of the Wigan fans. It doesn't take the most well-honed observation skills to notice that the JJB Stadium is somewhat underfilled on any given matchday, and perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by that.

Wigan has traditionally been a rugby town most notably fielding strong teams in the League code for the last hundred years or more. Wigan Athletic Football Club only became a fully-fledged League team in 1978, and by the time that happened, few seemed willing to devote themselves to a life following the round ball game. The trend for scarce supporting of the local football team was therefore set for many years to come.

Yet after nearly three decades floundering in the lower divisions of the English game, Wigan finally reached the top flight in 2005 and this was seen as the best chance ever to attract more supporters to the club. Sadly, attendance figures struggled to reach any ambitious targets that may have been set, despite the recently-built JJB Stadium being a modern and attractive home venue.

So just how did Wigan compare to other clubs when it came to filling up their stadium during the 2006/2007 Premier League season? As ever, we at Some People Are On The Pitch decided to crunch those all-important numbers to find out...*

First of all, let's consider stadia capacity in the Premier League. Old Trafford and the Emirates Stadium are at the top of the list and rather admirably they were over 99% full throughout last season. So if Man United and Arsenal were able to fill huge stadia with capacities of 60,000 to 80,000, surely it should be easy to do the same with a stadium containing around 20,000 seats, right?

Right - if you're Watford, Portsmouth, Fulham or Reading. Wrong, however, if you're Wigan. Their stadium is, capacity-wise, the fifth smallest in the Premier League at 25,138, yet over the whole of the last season it was only ever 72.2% full. Not particularly impressive, it has to be said.

Somewhat surprising is that Wigan's stadium wasn't the emptiest overall. That goes to Blackburn's Ewood Park which, despite having a capacity of 31,154, was only 68.2% full all season.

At the other end of the scale, a special mention should go to Sheffield United who, prior to relegation, kept their 30,000-seater stadium over 99.4% full this year. And that's really where we come back to our original point.

For some, a club that has a strong, loyal following can earn great respect regardless of how big it is. It can be forgiven the occasional grumble when things aren't going so well because you know the support and love of its fans will carry it through in the end.

Looking at the graph above, however, you're left with the feeling that out of Sheffield United and Wigan, perhaps the wrong team were relegated. They may have had Neil Warnock as manager, but at least Sheffield United could earn great respect from the devoted following of its huge army of fans.

* Source: Football365

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