City are so lucky to have such loyal fans

DAVID CUFFLEY Next Saturday, March 3, promises to be a significant day for Norwich City - and not just because of their potentially vital Coca-Cola Championship trip to Barnsley.


Next Saturday, March 3, promises to be a significant day for Norwich City - and not just because of their potentially vital Coca-Cola Championship trip to Barnsley.

It's also the first deadline for the renewal of season tickets at Carrow Road for the 2007-08 campaign.

The remarkable durability of City's supporters has been demonstrated again this season with their average home attendances the third highest of the 24 clubs in the Championship.

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Last season, only Sheffield Wednesday recorded higher average gates than City in the division, and even then the Owls only squeezed into top place when an error was spotted in the official figures.

So far this term, Sunderland head the way with an average of 29,597 attending games at the Stadium of Light, followed by this morning's table-toppers, Derby, with 25,008, and the Canaries in third place with 24,544. Sheffield Wednesday are fourth with 23,877.

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Compare that with Wolves, right on the fringe of the play-off places and supposedly a “big” club by Championship standards, whose gates are below the 20,000 mark on average.

Or how about high-flying Cardiff, averaging just 15,700 before last night's home win over Preston, who themselves have fairly abysmal gates for a team chasing promotion.

The average crowd at Deepdale is just 14,282, and the attendance for Tuesday's 2-1 win over Norwich was a pathetic 11,601, their lowest of the season.

The Canaries' average home gates are also bigger than three more of the promotion contenders in Southampton, Birmingham and West Bromwich Albion.

It should - and I'm sure it does - make City realise just how lucky they are to have such loyal fans.

It is not so much that 6,300 went to Stamford Bridge last Saturday.

Most clubs in the last 16 of the FA Cup within reasonable travelling distance of the away venue can expect their fans to grab the chance of a big day out and the faint hope of seeing an upset.

It is more the fact that, for the second season running, more than 20,000 are turning up consistently at Carrow Road to watch a team that has made no impact on the promotion race and has in fact been flirting with danger at the opposite end of the table in recent weeks.

City still needed four or five wins from their final 15 games, starting with today's home match against Coventry, to be sure of avoiding the relegation places.

City fans have twice briefly had their hopes raised in 2006-07, firstly by a bright start to the campaign under Nigel Worthington, with 10 points from the first five games, then by four wins from the first six matches under Peter Grant, only to be brought back to earth on each occasion.

But even the lowest home league gate of the season - 23,311 seats sold against Wolves with a turnout of 85 per cent - was very close to the 20,000 mark, and the FA Cup fourth round replay against Blackpool 11 days ago attracted 19,120.

The question now, after a second season of under-achievement in the Championship, is whether that level of interest can be sustained for a third term, or whether there will be more floating voters this time round.

City's season ticket ceiling of just over 20,000 was reached early this season and with more than 1,000 on the waiting list for 2007-08, there seems to be no shortage of interest from those currently without a regular seat.

One thing that always works in City's favour is the ploy of having more than one renewal deadline. The longer you leave it, the more you pay.

For example, a Barclay season ticket renewed by next Saturday costs £356.

Leave it until the May 15 cut-off point and it will cost £383.

The club's latest bulletin on season ticket sales refers to a “steady stream of renewals pouring into the ticket office”, but that gives nothing away, and only by next weekend will we get a clear picture of the mood of the paying customers.

Since failure to return to the Premiership will reduce the club's income by £7m next season, every penny from ticket sales will be gratefully received.

City's director of sales and marketing, Andrew Cullen, said: “With no Premiership parachute payment next season, ticket income will represent the biggest single contributor to club revenue.

“A large number of season ticket-holders will therefore have a major influence on our ability to compete both on and off the pitch.”

What they need most of all, and the one thing football supporters thrive on, is hope.

There will always be a hard core of, say, between 10,000 and 15,000 fans who would probably watch City whether they were in the Premiership or the Conference.

The rest may need a little more encouragement and they will need to be given new cause for hope in the remaining weeks of another undistinguished season.

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