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Where Have the Fans Gone?
By: Geoff Ford
As the groundswell of interest in football in this country continues at full pelt, attendances at Blundell Park leave the Mariners bottom of the crowd table. Grimsby Telegraph Sports Editor Geoff Ford asks... Where have all the fans gone?
Grimsby Town are top of the flops when it comes to the level of support the club attracts. The Mariners are firmly anchored to the bottom of the first division gates' league - even sitting below the likes of Crewe and Stockport.
Town's league average this season is a paltry 5,463 - the only club in the division to be below the 6,000 mark.
And Cup gates have been an embarrassment; with just 1,900 turning up for the Worthington Cup game against Carlisle and a top attendance of 3,267 for the FA Cup Third Round match with Wycombe.
The Mariners top gate this season was the 7,755, which turned up for the derby with Sheffield Wednesday in August - a big proportion of which came from Sheffield.
Three weeks later only 3,732 could be bothered to turn up for a game with star-studded promotion contenders Bolton Wanderers.
If the Mariners were in the second division they would be only 13th in the gates' league while several clubs in Division Three have better attendances.
The level of support is exasperating club directors who have given Lennie Lawrence the green light to bring in highly-paid foreign stars like David Nielsen and Chinese captain Zhang Enhua.
"We can't continue to support first division football on Conference gates," said vice-chairman Bryan Huxford.
"What do we have to do to get people along to the games?" he asked.
With the club reported to be losing many thousands of pounds a week it is only TV and commercial money, which is keeping it going. But that cannot go on indefinitely.
Big city clubs like Nottm Forest, Birmingham and Wolves are pulling in average gates of around 19,000 and these are the sides with which the Mariners are attempting to compete on the pitch. But teams in smaller urban areas, some not dissimilar to Grimsby and Cleethorpes, are packing in the fans.
Burnley's average is over 16,000, Barnsley's and Preston's over 14,000 and Huddersfield's over 12,000. Even Wimbledon, without their own ground, have an average of over 7,000.
Added Mr Huxford: "It seems that our town does not appreciate what it has here. There are lots of communities around the country that would give their right arm for first division football.
"If Hull City had a Division One side they would be pulling in 12,000 gates," he pointed out.
The apathy was brought home on Saturday when Town, facing a key clash with Portsmouth, could only draw around 3,800 home fans in the 4,100 gate. And many of those were season ticket holders. Portsmouth, just four points above Town today, have an average gate of 13,231.
The future of the club, it would seem, is firmly in the hands of the people of the Grimsby area. If they want first division football they need to start showing it. The Mariners last had an average above 10,000 in 1980/81, their first season back in the old Division Two after two successive promotions. The last time it was over 7,000 was 10 years ago in the Division Three promotion season. Gates then declined to a 5,415 average in the Division Two promotion season of 1997/8 - the same year in which the club took 27,000 fans to Wembley. Last season, the average was 6,304.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW? The Mariners took almost 30,000 fans to Wembley in 1998 but attendances for home games this season have been disappointingly low.
This article was reproduced by kind permission of the Grimsby Telegraph. www.thisisgrimsby.co.uk
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