FA Cup Attendances: Was This Weekend Good or Bad?

Credit Graham Burrell

Since the weekend, something has been troubling me, and it’s not connected to the copious amounts of beer I drank at the gig in Leeds.

Nope, it’s all to do with attendance. You see, I didn’t think the attendance on Saturday was very good. Fewer than 6000 seemed a bit weak, especially as I had a dewy-eyed vision of people liking the FA Cup. Accrington at home, I get why that might be low, but a non-league team in the FA Cup would surely be a massive draw? Apparently not, but when I mentioned that in my match report, some picked up on it and said it was more than they thought.

That got me thinking – what have our other attendances been like in comparison. Since the weekend, I’ve compiled a list of all our home FA Cup ties going back to 1980, matched them with the average attendance for the season, and then worked out not only the difference but the percentage of fans that were not at the game (or how many more were there). What I’ve come up with is a list that certainly interests me, if not others. My question is this; was the attendance against Bowers and Pitsea disappointing or true to form. I’ll answer that first, then look at a few of the obvious highlights and lowlights.

Not sure Mansfield fans were impressed – Credit Graham Burrell

Was it Disappointing?

I don’t think we can just take a spread of all the figures and draw conclusions; for instance, games against Sunderland, Forest, Bolton and even Gainsborough or Mansfield have added spice; local matches or big clubs draw better attendances. The only games I think compare are those that saw us play against lower league opposition. Stevenage in 1998 is a great indication, as is Bracknell Town in 2000.

We played Stevenage when they were in the Conference and us in the third tier, so it is a slightly higher profile game. Our average attendance that season was 4654, with 4375 turning up to watch the game – a drop of just 6%. Bracknell was two years later, and whilst we were third tier, they were a couple of levels below the Conference. In that instance, the average attendance was 3273, and the game attracted 2387, a 27% drop.

Other notable games against non-league teams include Gateshead in 1980 (4% down), Billingham in 1989 (29% down), Emley in 1997 (6% down), Welling in 1999 (19% down) and Nuneaton in 2010 (12% down). Only one non-league team attracted more than our average, Telford in 1984 (34% up), whilst Stafford in 1992 was 1% up, and Kettering in 2008 was almost bang on average (3940m average, 3953 in the ground).

The Bowers game attracted 5849 fans, from an average of 8672, which was 33% down, more than any of the other fixtures. However, it is worth noting that only one non-league team have seen more bums on seats at Sincil Bank since 1980, and that was Gainsborough Trinity in 1997. On that occasion, the crowd was up by 52% and again by 44% for the replay.

So in real terms, the crowd wasn’t all that disappointing, given the level of opposition and actual number, but as a percentage, it is low. Mind you, our average this season includes a big following from a couple of other teams – our home average is closer to 7,770, which would change the figures a little.

They’re here. they’re there, they’re every bloody where, empty seats (v Hereford) – Credit Graham Burrell

Which FA Cup Ties Have Seen The Biggest Drop?

The Bowers game represents the sixth-highest difference between average and FA Cup attendance since 1980. The others are all fairly recent too. In 2018 we beat Northampton Town 3-2 in a thriller in front of 6012. That year, our average was 9006, which sees a 33% drop, almost identical to the Bowers game (the difference is 0.6%). In 2014, not our best era, we played Alfreton Town in the qualifying round, and just 1529 turned up, compared to our 2563 average. That was a 40% reduction, and another qualifying round beats that: Worcester City in 2013, with a 43% fall. In 2010, our biggest difference as a league club occurred when we played Hereford United. It was a thriller, a 4-3 defeat, but just 1794 people saw it; a 49% drop from our average of 3508.

The biggest drop off has made me chuckle if I’m honest. In 2016, we played Guiseley in the qualifying round, having won just two of our previous six games. Oh, the apathy…. just 2629 turned up to watch the drab 0-0 draw, compared to a reasonable average of 5162. That was a 49% decrease on the average, but to be fair, events after that did bump the average up somewhat. The previous home game, our 3-0 win against Braintree, attracted 3554, so it was a 26% fall in immediate terms.

In terms of actual numbers, the biggest drops are Northampton in 2018 (2994), Bowers & Pitsea (2823), Carlisle in 2018 (2568) and Guiseley in 2016 (2533). Ipswich weren’t a big draw in 2019 either; 2205 fewer fans watched that than we averaged over the season.

Credit Graham Burrell

Which Ties Saw The Biggest Uplift?

Of the 44 FA Cup ties we’ve played at home since 1980 (discounting Forest Green behind closed doors), 18 have seen more fans in attendance than the seasonal average. There are some obvious teams on the list – Ipswich, Forest, Oldham, Brighton and Sunderland. The biggest uplift came in 1983 when 7554 watched us draw 0-0 with Sheffield United, against a season average of 3148 – that’s 140% more for the cup tie. Sunderland is the next highest, 124% up in 1998 (10408 against 4654 average). I was a little surprised at the next one; in 1993 we lost 3-1 to Bolton, with Magic Johnson bagging for us, and it saw a 97% uplift in attendance, 6250 from an average of 3179. The Mansfield tie in 2012 also drew a decent crowd, 4127 against the average of 2181, a 189% lift. Obviously, local teams and big clubs give a big boost to attendance. One surprise was the 2013 tie between us and Plymouth, my final game as Poacher, which saw a 24% increase.

In terms of actual numbers, the Sunderland game drew 5754 more fans than we got on average, with the Sheffield United game pulling 4406. The 2016 game against Brighton attracted 9469, 4307 more than the average, with Ipswich in same season being up by 3892. The other big lift in terms of numbers came in 2007 when 3283 more supporters watched us hold Forest.

This might have been before the Sheffield Utd FA Cup game. Maybe. It’s the closest I’ve got to a picture.

What Can We Expect From Our Second Round Tie?

As you know, but I haven’t mentioned, it’s Wycombe or Hartlepool at the Bank for the Second Round. Sure, you want a home tie, I guess, but it’s as uninspiring as they come – it’s one of those games I often talk about, the non-entities that see cup runs fizzle out before they begin. That’s not pessimism by the way, but clubs either in the same league, or one division higher or lower but with no local interest, don’t get you pulses racing. Port Vale (1981, 6%), Tranmere (2015, 8%), Bury (2001, 9%), Halifax (2012, 11%), Ipswich (2019, 25%), MK Dons (2005, 26%), Alfreton (2011, 26%), Carlisle (2018, 29%) and Northampton (2018, 33%) have all been ties that are probably comparable. The odd one such as Crewe (1990, up 21%) and Luton (1999, up 12%) show an uplift, but outside of that, it is rare.

Using my stats, my guess for the attendance would be around 5500 for either tie. It’s a crappy journey for both clubs, it’s right before Christmas and the market is on in town, meaning plenty of home supporters might avoid it too. Of course, if we then get through and draw a big club, there will be outrage that those who were say there when we played Guiseley (actual figure 2629, suggested figure in the event of a big tie, 12,000) can’t get a ticket.

Credit Graham Burrell

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