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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Supporting your side

On Saturday afternoon, over 1,500 fans watched Boston United open their UniBond League season with a 0-0 draw against Kendal Town.

To put that attendance into context, it was a better crowd than any other side at this level of the pyramid, as well as AFC Halifax Town beneath us. It also bettered every single attendance in the Conference North and South, and was higher than eight of the twelve Conference fixtures.

Only the matches at Oxford, Mansfield, Luton, and Wrexham, all former and traditional Football League clubs, were watched by more people than the game at York Street.

Furthermore, Pilgrims fans turned up in greater number than the 1000 Macclesfield fans who saw their game at home to Port Vale recently. The crowd was also more than the number of Barnet fans who saw their home win over Morecambe, and more than the crowd who saw Accrington's win over Lincoln.

All three of these were, of course, League Two games, where it must also be recognised that, as well as the quality and level of football being higher, the away club also brings more away fans with them to boost the attendance.

All this then is testament not only to the size of the club at Non League level, United are certainly a top half Conference club, but also the loyalty of the supporters in this corner of south Lincolnshire.

Few teams in Non League boast bigger gates than at Boston's York Street

So why then was Pilgrims joint boss Rob Scott criticising the United faithful in his post-match interview? Churlish surely, when so many had turned out to support their side during an economic recession where unemployment figures are some of the highest in the region.

Well, not in my view. After all, it's all very well having large attendances, and it's financially crucial to the club to keep getting gates which wouldn't look out of place in the Football League. However, what's the point in lots of fans turning up if they're not going to actually support the team?

Scott was unhappy with the impatience of the crowd towards a side radically overhauled during the summer. With so many new players on board, of course it is going to take for them to gel and for combinations and partnerships to click.

Fans should understand this, and support the players, not criticise and shout at them when a pass is mis-placed. When a striker misses a chance or a keeper makes a mistake, why barrack them? They're professionals, but they're human and make errors.

Can any of them honestly say they've never made an error during their job? I doubt it. And if they did, they didn't have 1,500 people there watching over them, ready to get on their back for doing so.

It's one of the reasons, I think, why our away form and performances was so much better last season than our home form. Now we are the big fish in a small pond, sides come to York Street to frustrate us, and get the crowd on our backs. It's a classic away side tactic.

Away from home, the pressure is off, the players feel more freedom to perform and express themselves, knowing every error won't be greeted with a chorus of boos and moans. It's all very well having a great quantity of support, what we need is quality support.

Some clubs are notorious for it. Years of underachieving at Wolverhampton Wanderers led to fans being very quick to turn on the players in Old Gold when they didn't get off to a good start. Molineux became a ground players weren't inspired in, but shrank and wilted under the pressure.

And what about Bradford City? Playing in-front of 13,000 in League Two might be great for the coffers, and good when the side are playing well. But when you're not, that's a lot of extra people to give the Bantams players grief. They must wish they were playing their football at the Moss Rose or Crown Ground.

Bradford attract the biggest crowds in League Two - but is it an advantage?

You only have to look at the success of Stoke City and Burnley to know the difference that a passionate, partisan, vociferous, and above all, supportive home crowd can make to a team.

Those players walking out at the Britannia Stadium and Turf Moor respectively must feel twelve feet tall (and with Stoke, some of them probably literally are) knowing they are going to have the full backing of their fans for 90 minutes.

And that's when 27,000 Potters fans, and 17,000 Clarets supporters become far more important and special than any number of Japanese tourists and glory hunters who set record top flight attendances at Old Trafford.

It's no surprise that both Burnley and Stoke have spent the majority of their recent years in the lower divisions, it's the home of true football supporters after all. But there's that word again, supporters - time to put the support back into it.



  1. To be fair, the Barnet vs Morecambe game was on a Tuesday night with 43 fans from Morecambe, probably as many as Kendal managed? The previous Saturday had seen only a marginal improvement though with just under 1,900 in Underhill. It's not boasting though, it's still a poor turn up, but worth comparing like for like. MCB

  2. Fair comment. That seems a very low turnout from Morecambe though. Think at that level long away trips are becoming an expense that, in these tough economic times, people are cutting back on.