City gates booming

CHRIS LAKEY Norwich City's upturn in fortunes is likely to see another sell-out crowd pack into Carrow Road this weekend as the Canaries continue to be the envy of marketing men around the Football League.


Norwich City's upturn in fortunes is likely to see another sell-out crowd pack into Carrow Road this weekend as the Canaries continue to be the envy of marketing men around the Football League.

City's salesmen pulled off a coup on Tuesday when reduced ticket pricing meant the ground was sold out for a match between a team bottom of the table and one whose fans had to make a 340-mile trek from Plymouth.

The fact that Plymouth took just 450 tickets meant the 8,000-seat Jarrold Stand had its highest concentration of Norwich fans since it was opened in 2004.

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And while the attendance of 25,434 was just 27 lower than the season's best against Ipswich in early November, the presence of the maximum 2,400 visiting fans that day meant there were fewer seats available for City fans.

But the true test of City's ability to pack out Carrow Road for every home game could come in January, when season tickets are up for renewal.

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Manager Glenn Roeder, who has sparked City's revival, admits the depth of support has taken him by surprise.

“For more than 25,000 people to come a long and watch a side who are bottom of the table is amazing,” he said.

But sales and marketing boss Andrew Cullen says recent evidence suggests City fans are likely to stay loyal to their team.

“If you look at our league positions and the crowd figures, there is no real correlation,” he said. “Aside from the period between 2002 and 2004, the team has been pretty much mid-table, but there has always been pretty much a steady growth in the crowds, which is phenomenal.

“It just reflects how well people in this county have got behind this football club.

“It is not a fickle group of fans like some other clubs have. People have stood by the football club through thick and thin and that is not always replicated elsewhere.”

The Canaries have, for the third season in a row, broken the 20,000 barrier for season ticket holders - the best record in the Football League and the envy of many of their fellow Championship teams.

Only this weekend's visitors, Sheffield United, can boast a higher home average attendance, while Wolves, Charlton, West Brom and neighbours Ipswich are all unable to sell out their stadia by some distance. Southampton, on Tuesday, managed to attract just 17,981 fans to St Mary's Stadium for the match against Sheffield Wednesday the lowest figure for a home league match since they moved there from The Dell in at the beginning of the 2001-02 season.

Sheffield United have taken an allocation of 1,400 tickets for tomorrow's game at Carrow Road and Cullen is expecting another crowd close to capacity.

“We're already approaching 24,500 so there is a good chance we will be around the 25,000 mark,” he said.

Plymouth are to follow City's lead by announcing similar plans, to reduce prices for D grade matches - City charged just £10 on Tuesday, with children admitted for £1.

But Cullen says City's ability to pull in the crowds dates back to the late 90s, when policies were put in place to sell the club to the community.

“The issue was how to fill the stadium when you have a generation of fans who can pick and choose their matches on television,” he said. “Football is on tap five days a week. If you want to watch Premier League teams you can do, but whatever you watch you can't match the passion and excitement of live football - and we set out to make it affordable and accessible.”

Of the 20,000 season ticket holders at Carrow Road, 9,000 pay in interest-free instalments.

“Of the 20,000 season ticket holders, 13,000 are in shared households, where more than one person has a season ticket so we believe it helps spread the cost,” added Cullen. “And while we have promotions like we did against Plymouth, we ensure that season ticket holders get full value for money.

“There are many intangible things as well, which have strengthened our relationship with the community. It doesn't happen overnight, but I believe we are seeing the rewards. But the work goes on - we have to constantly improve our services to ensure the fans are kept happy.”

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