I do like a graph. Must be something in my chromosomes (the ‘X’ and ‘Y’ bits probably) And, for reasons that will become clear, I like this one very much.
It shows a comparison between the average home attendances for Norwich City and Ipswich Town since 1992. As you can see, City’s attendances have been flourishing faster than Mourinho’s grey hairs, while Town’s have been sliding down the table clumsier than a drunk at a barn dance.
But that’s being unkind. After all we all want both local teams to do well. Don’t we?
The Premier League era started off with Ipswich, managed by John Lyall, playing in the top division. Three consecutive poor league finishes attracted average home gates of 16,000 – 18,000 and with relegation the following season they plummeted to 12,000.
The inspired appointment of George Burley turned things around on and off the pitch and he more than doubled average attendances to over 24,000 during his eight-year tenure. His replacement Joe Royle kept the momentum going for four consistent seasons of around 25,000, but then the rot set in.
Jim Magilton, Roy Keane, and Paul Jewell each chipped a thousand off average attendances each season until they eventually stood at 17,000.
Then – rather surprisingly – a green knight turned up on his charger and turned things around. Yes indeed, it was the much-maligned but decent Mick McCarthy.
His first three years showed considerable improvement and garnered a place in the play-offs while average attendances rose to over 20,000. But it couldn’t last and lack of player investment impacted league position and attendances dribbled back down to 16,000.
Jock McTurncoat arrived and before long he was once again achieving something extraordinary at an East Anglian club. Not only were team performances worse than they had ever been in my lifetime, but he managed to get Ipswich Town relegated to the third tier of English football.
But that’s not the extraordinary bit. The extraordinary bit is he (Paul Lambert) managed to massively increase average attendances while doing so, up 1,500 in his first year, then increasing to almost 20,000 this year, virtually a ten year high. Extraordinary, Brian. Or in this case, Paul.
Incidentally, while we’re on the unpleasant subject of League One, Norwich’s average home gate during their brief visit to that division was almost 21,000 – well over a thousand more than the boys in blue. But, who’s counting.
(Me, that’s who).
Moving on to Norwich’s performance over the same period, some interesting facts emerge.
Early all-seating stadia didn’t attract many fans. Mike Walker’s early 1992/93 exploits only attracted 16,000 regular watchers. I’m gonna get the ‘E’ word out again – extraordinary. (There, I warned you).
My memory of the Martin O’Neill management era was one of a golden dawn prematurely cut short by a bulbous grey cloud Chasing across the sky, but look at it – only 14,000. Bless his confusing verbal cotton socks, but facts is facts.
Mike Walker (again), Bruce Rioch, and Bryan Hamilton all huffed and puffed and unconvincingly nudged the crowds up to 16,000, but then, once again, it was a green knight in shining armour who came to the rescue.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t mind Nigel Worthington but thought his tenure was unremarkable. But just look at what he did. He revitalised the crowds, gave them sniff of the Premier League, and they came flooding back into the stadium, increasing in numbers from 16,000 to 25,000 in only six years.
And the momentum that Nigel generated never really died away. I can see now why Delia was so fond of him – and perhaps the rest of us should be too.
After Nigel, Peter Grant and Glenn Roeder floundered around in the lower reaches of the Championship until dismal relegation to League One, but both amazingly managed to maintain 25,000 regular attendees over that period.
Bryan, bless him, had a shot (as a Gunn might), but he must have been relieved to be relieved by an irascible Scotsman called Paul. Paul did rather well and crowds slowly warmed to the pleasing sensation of racing up the table faster than a haggis with a rocket up its @rse, and he spikily increased crowds to 26,000.
And that’s where the numbers have stayed ever since, wobbling elegantly between 26,000 and 27,000 – through the Chris Hughton and two Neils era (Adams and Alex) – before settling comfortably into the 99%-capacity-sold arms of Herr Farke. Das ist nett, ja?
So, where will we be in ten year’s time? Will Ipswich ever fill their stadium? Will Norwich build a bigger one to take all those queueing up to go? Will there ever be a – cough, pardon me – joint stadium enabling East Anglia to genuinely compete with the Premier League giants?
But in the meantime please continue to park your bot on your shiny yellow or green plastic flap and watch this space, because it could get interesting…