the real fa cup

The Annual January FA Cup Attendance Scare

This seems to happen every season of late, commentators noting how attendances are down at this stage of the competition. The theory goes that no one cares about the FA Cup anymore but is this true?

Statistically, averagely, it is certainly the case at 3rd round stage but is it simply that the cup has lost its lustre? We would argue not. For a start, attendances in the previous 3 or 4 rounds do not show a large absence of fans and neither do they show it in the later stages.

In the 3rd and 4th qualifying rounds the very small non-league teams have their cup finals against the bigger non-league sides and fans turn out in their droves. We do not mean that disparagingly but it is self-evident that a very small club does not expect to get much further than this stage so are likely to make the most of it. Similarly, at 1st and 2nd round games, the higher non-league teams find themselves up against pro league teams and the supporters turn out in droves to witness their cup final. The same will go for League 1/Championship teams if they get to the 5th round.

With a few exceptions, the third round sees the remaining lower league sides outnumbered by the top two flights and few get plum ties, while there are a lot of ties featuring clubs from the same division at a stage of the competition that means little in the short-term.

And herein lies the likely reason, short-termism. You can see it in managerial tenures, in pundits lauding the success of players over the course of just 1 or 2 games (see Michael Owen for England after his recent hatrick) and you can see it in attendances for 3rd round games. There is no tangible short term reward for fans of teams who almost expect to be in the next round or where there is a tedious game fans can see on any given Premier/Championship Saturday.

The same dwindling attendances happen when a team’s season peters out in to mid table mediocrity or when they are doomed to relegation. Does this show a malaise in league attendances? Yes and No. It shows you that supporters see no short term benefit in going. This is perhaps a malaise but it is not perceived as such when a season peters out, it is a natural consequence. Similarly, we at therealfacup think the lower attendances at certain FA Cup 3rd round games can be seen as a natural consequence.

Also, media and pundits alike seem to assume a club’s average gate for league games is the norm. It is not, it is an average. For some league games there may be 15000, for more glamorous ones it might be 20000. No one suggests league attendances are falling when Bolton get 15000 against Portsmouth, it is simply that fewer fans select to go to that game than, say, against Man Utd. One can see from cup final and semi final ticket allocations that a club’s average attendance is NOT the actual number of fans they have. Even for FA Vase finals, seemingly entire towns travel to Wembley when usual attendances scarcely scrape 100.

In short. We don’t think that FA Cup 3rd round gates are unduly alarming, we think that folk are simply selective about what they go and see and at round 3 stage there is very little to get exccited about if you are a fair to middling Premier League or Championsip side drawn against a fair to middling Premier League or Championship side.

Shit happens folks, please let it lie. I didn’t notice any pundits banging on about the huge attendances in some of the 1st and 2nd round ties. Oh hang on, that’s because they didn’t even cover them. Unlike us, of course. So, the Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, The Sun, Guardian and Times, do please SHUT THE FUCK UP and go and deliberate falling Premier League attendances.

  1. Good article – fully agree. With so many inter-divisional ties (should that be intra-divisional?) and/or ties between Championship and recently promoted Premier League clubs (or, indeed, Premier League and recently relegated Championship clubs) it’s no wonder that fans stay away in their droves.

    One look at the entire away end of Craven Cottage flat-out packed with Swindon Town fans suggests that the FA Cup is not dead and buried. The pittiful attendence at the Wigan v Hull cup match (5,335) compared to other attendences in the round suggests that there is more of a problem with apathy among fans of Premier League clubs than apathy towards the FA Cup in general.

  2. Damon Threadgold

    And of course Wigan fans can barely bring themselves to go to Premier Lge games that don’t involve a big club so it’s hardly a massive shock. Similarly, Middlesbro’ have a history of pathetic League/FA/UEFA Cup attendances in recent years so a low crowd there is hardly indicative of an FA Cup-wide malaise.

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