City eager to arrest slump in visiting supporters

DAVID CUFFLEY The away day is losing its appeal for football fans - and Norwich City are helping the game's bosses draw up ideas to halt the decline in the number of visiting supporters at games.

DAVID CUFFLEY

The away day is losing its appeal for football fans - and Norwich City are helping the game's bosses draw up ideas to halt the decline in the number of visiting supporters at games.

The Canaries are determined to beat the drop in more ways than one, in this case lending their weight to a Football League working party looking at all aspects of attendances.

The average number of away fans at Norwich this season is 18 per cent down on 2006-07, reflecting a nationwide slump.


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City's director of sales and marketing, Andrew Cullen, is on the working party trying to reverse that trend.

He said: “One of the areas we are looking at is the number of people travelling away, which is on the decline.

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“At Carrow Road this season, in terms of visiting supporters, numbers are well down.

“Two seasons ago the average in the away section was 1,179. It was 1,113 last season and so far this season it is 1,067.”

However, that figure of 1,067, for the first eight home games of the season, includes the East Anglian derby against Ipswich, which is always a sell-out for visiting fans and tends to distort the picture.

“If we take out the Ipswich game this season and last season, the average number of away fans has gone down from 1,075 to 876, and that represents an 18 per cent decline,” said Cullen. “That trend is replicated across a number of clubs.”

City's own travelling army has diminished, too, though it must be said they have witnessed some dreadful performances.

An average of 1,500 fans per match followed the Canaries away from home in the first season after relegation. That figure dropped to 1,300 last season and so far this season, the average is down to 1,000, though well over 500 made the 720-mile round trip to Plymouth a fortnight ago.

“We still get fantastic support,” said Cullen. “If you look at teams coming here, Birmingham and Derby each brought fewer than 1,200 fans last season when they were challenging for promotion. Even though they were midweek games, I'm sure if we had we been in the same position, we would have taken three to four thousand.

“The more away fans at a game, the greater the atmosphere tends to be.

“One of the problems is that there is no incentive to clubs to send supporters away from home, since the rules changed and the home team keeps all the gate receipts. Clubs sell tickets for away games but don't get anything out of it.”

The working party has identified common grievances among travelling fans - increased cost, road and rail problems, poor facilities and the lack of a welcome at the end of a long journey.

Said Cullen: “High ticket prices are not always matched by a high standard of facilities at away grounds.

“The whole travelling experience can be problematic. Try to go north or west by train at the weekend and the whole rail network is often grinding to a standstill. You may get there but you can never be sure you will get back.

“There is a tendency for an unwelcoming atmosphere at certain grounds. We have to make the experience of travelling better.

“Policing has to be more consistent across the country because there have been examples of fans' coaches being held for up to an hour on the motorway, or supporters arriving early but not being allowed near grounds until shortly before kick-off.

“As a football club we work as hard as we can do. One example for the Coventry game today is that we have created a family area within the visiting area - a sort of section within a section - to make it less intimidating for younger fans.”

Other ideas being explored by the working party are subsidised travel, more family areas, cashback arrangements with other clubs on ticket sales, discounts with petrol companies for fans on the road, and introducing a charter mark for clubs who look after visiting fans.

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