Saturday, 30 September 2017

"THE GAME'S NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE"


By Scrantlefish

I’ve just watched a (highly entertaining) 3-3 draw in a Belgian match between Eupen and Genk. At 3-1 down a Genk penalty claim was waved away by the referee who indicated a corner kick. But after consulting his video monitor he changed his mind and pointed to the spot. The keeper parried the spot kick but Genk scored from the rebound. Video technology undoubtedly affected the result of the match and not long ago there would have been no recourse to a slow motion replay. The referee’s initial decision would have stood and that would have been the end of the matter. Some advocates of new technology claimed that video playbacks would end controversy and ensure the correct decision was made.

In this instance it didn’t. The question of whether the handball that sparked the penalty claim was intentional or not was one that was still left open to interpretation. It wasn’t at all clear to the viewer and if the one hammering away on this keyboard had been in charge the original decision to award a corner would have stood. What some enthusiasts for new technology forgot was that it is an aid to human interpretation, not an alternative to it.

That’s been the case for many years now in sports like tennis, cricket and rugby union and it was strange anyone should think football would be any different. Technology allows incidents to be replayed and examined in greater depth than the split second decision subject to review but it is not the ultimate arbiter.

As a result the usual complaints have been heard about it ‘ruining’ the game or ‘wasting time.’ My own opinion is the opposite. Anything which helps improve decision-making is to be welcomed and as far was time-wasting is concerned I’ve seen players take longer to walk off the field when substituted than the time the referee took to consult his monitor.

But this “the game’s not what it used to be” mentality that all too many supporters cling to doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Not do some of the other clichés casually tossed into conversation:

“You’re not allowed to tackle these days.”
“Players are paid far too much money.”
“No one’s worth that much of a transfer fee”
“There’s no loyalty in the game anymore”
“Carlos Galactico will never be as good as Darren Superstar was”

There are many more. You know them all. You might even have been guilty of repeating them. I know I have. But in my less emotional moments I reflect on football and conclude that yes, the game’s most definitely NOT what it used to be – and it’s all the better for it.

For football has never been a sport that stood still and if, at various points in history, those who are termed ‘traditionalists,’ had won the day, the world’s most popular sport would be a very different animal indeed. It may not even be the world’s most popular sport. It would certainly never have evolved to the stage that successive generations of ‘traditionalists’ bemoan is being lost. Because each and every one of those clichés above has been uttered by supporters for over a century and a half. I heard exactly the same complaints when I was a child and I know from decades spent studying football history that ‘twas ever thus. The £1,000 transfer of Alf Common caused as big a stir as Neymar’s move to PSG. Johnny Haynes earning £100 per week was regarded with the same horror as the salaries of contemporary top players. Outlawing shoulder charges was viewed as destroying football as a contact sport in the same way as thought by those with a yearning to return to studs up tackles from behind.

The simple truth is that each generation of ‘traditionalists’ is nostalgic for their own time. The game they view as traditional would be regarded with horror by the previous generation and theirs in turn detested by the generation before that etc etc etc.

Football remains the greatest game in the world because it adapts. Think of it in terms of language. Chinese is the most spoken language in the world but complex and difficult for the outsider to understand. English is spoken by fewer but comparatively easier to learn and far more widespread, popular not just in its homeland but almost everywhere in the world because it mutates and modifies to meet the challenges of a constantly changing world. In sport NFL is Chinese. Football is English.

I thought I’d have a look at how the game has developed (not always, but generally) for the good. Those slow, often thought tinkering, changes which have over time transformed football in a revolutionary manner that the ‘traditionalists’ from times gone by would look on in rage were they to witness a modern match.

To do so let me introduce you to the world’s oldest (occasional) football supporter, Jimmy Fairweather-Fan. Jimmy is 180 years old and he puts his longevity down to restricting his passion for football to only watching a match once every decade or so. Born just as Queen Victoria ascended the throne, Jimmy first attended a game as a teenager in the 1850s. Very much a traditionalist Jimmy has never watched a match outside England and while all the changes he has witnessed have come into effect worldwide, the dates during which he encountered them apply specifically to the game in England.

Jimmy was a bit bemused when he saw his first game in the 1850s. He got fed up waiting for it to start as the captains of the two teams argued over how many players there should be in the side, how long the match should last, whether the pitch was too big or too small to play on, if the players could use their hands or not and a whole host of other matters, all of which had to be resolved before the teams could take the field.

The whole affair annoyed Jimmy so much it was ten years before he attended another game. This was a more satisfying affair because both sides before kick-off knew all the rules established by the new-fangled Football Association in 1863. The only problem was if a team from the north met one from the south. For the northern clubs had their own ‘Sheffield Rules.’ It was still a bit confusing. Made more so when match ended in a draw and that was that. Jimmy wanted to know which was the better side. He’d have to wait till next year to find out. Or maybe the year after because there was no guarantee these two teams would ever play each other again.

Jimmy decided to give up on football once more.

He couldn’t keep away forever though and he returned ten years on, thrilled to find that clubs now had something to compete for. If the match was a draw the teams met again and again until there was a winner. The winner then played another game and so on until eventually one team stood head and shoulders above all others and carried off the gleaming FA Cup. There were other changes that caught Jimmy’s eye too. If the ball was put behind the goal by a player from the attacking team the goalkeeper was allowed to kick the ball upfield, unimpeded by an opposing player. If a defender had put it behind the attacking team was allowed to take a kick from the corner of the bye-line and the defenders had to stand ten yards back while the kick was taken.

Jimmy was pleased with these developments but disappointed that such an exciting competition seemed to be restricted to public school old boys teams, universities and the military. Surely a game like this could appeal to a wider public?

By the time he saw another game in the mid-1880s he was delighted to find the popularity of the sport had spread and teams from the north of the country that actually PAID their players now held away in the FA Cup. Scotland, Wales and Ireland had joined with the FA to set up a board to make worldwide rules. That, jimmy reflected, was how it should be.

But Jimmy still wasn’t satisfied. The FA Cup was great but the rest of the season less so. Fixtures were arranged at short notice and often had to be cancelled, leaving clubs without a match and spectators with nothing to see, if one of the teams was still involved in the Cup. Nor did Jimmy like the nasty habit creeping into the game of players who looked certain to score being hacked down by defenders just as they were about to shoot. Jimmy wished the two umpires could do something about it but as the teams involved appointed them they were hardly likely to do anything that would harm their own side

So imagine how pleasantly surprised Jimmy was when he summoned up the energy to go to a match in the 1890s. It was a radically different affair. Now the teams had banded together into a league. Fixture lists were published at the start of each season. Barring weather and cup ties, fans knew who their team’s opponents would be, and the dates and times of kick-offs months in advance. Better still, when forwards were through on goal and viciously scythed down the ball was placed anywhere on a line twelve yards from goal and one of the players was allowed to take a direct kick at goal with only the opposing team’s keeper allowed to try and prevent him scoring. And the keeper had to stay on his line and not move until after the ball had been kicked. If a goal was scored the game restarted much quicker too, now that nets had been installed behind the goal line.

The umpires had vanished too. The timekeeper who used to stand by the side of the pitch and who was also the referee to whom the umpires could appeal to in order to resolve disputes, was now on the pitch for the duration of the game and was also the sole authority. The umpires now stood either side of the pitch and they assisted the referee, though for some strange reason they weren’t called assistant referees but ‘linesmen’

The next time Jimmy attended a match, in the 1900s, he saw pitch markings which determined the area in which a penalty could be awarded with the kick now taken from a fixed, marked spot. Jimmy was a bit worried by Johnny Foreigner though. An international association had been set up in Paris and they wanted a say in framing the laws of the game. Jimmy was relieved when a suitable compromise was reached with these upstarts. The International Board now comprised of a membership that was 50% United Kingdom and 50% the rest of the world. With a 75% vote needed to make changes the game was in safe hands.

At the outbreak of war in 1914, Jimmy thought he’d better take in a game lest he never have the chance again. To his surprise he saw that the goalkeeper was no longer allowed to handle the ball anywhere inside his own half but was restricted to that part of the pitch now known as the penalty area.

Jimmy survived the war and in the late 1920s decided to attend a match. He was fascinated by two changes in the game that saw the number of goals scored shoot up. A player could no longer be offside from a throw-in and the three-player offside rule was now just two.

War again disrupted his occasional spectating but once the conflict was over Jimmy was back through the turnstiles. His eyesight failing in his advancing years (Jimmy was now over 100 years old) he was pleased to see that players now had numbers on the backs of their shirts, making it much easier for them to be identified.

When Jimmy saw his next match – in the 1950s – he was bemused by the kick-off time of 7.30 pm. Still, he turned up at the appointed hour and saw the pitch flooded in light shone from bulbs high above the terracing. It was a strange game too. The away team wasn’t the usual City or Rovers but bore a name he’d never seen before. Was it Spartak something? Or Borussia? He couldn’t quite remember but he knew it was something distinctly foreign.

Jimmy rented one of those new television sets in the 1960s. He was astonished to see the FA Cup Final and some international matches broadcast live into his living room and a weekly programme of highlights was available too. He couldn’t stand modern ‘pop’ music though so in order to escape the weekly show hosted by another Jimmy, a creepy, cigar-smoking white-haired disc jockey much older than the kids he threw his arms around in the studio, Jimmy took himself off to a match.

He’d avoided going for a while, as he didn’t like the abolition of the maximum wage with some players now earning three-figure sums every week. Some of them didn’t even have to play ninety minutes for their wages either as Jimmy noted when he saw one player substituted by another midway through the match.

By the late 1970s Jimmy was more of an armchair fan. Well, he was getting on a bit now, wasn’t he? His rented TV was now his own, bought and paid for. He watched two World Cups that decade in full colour. Though Jimmy couldn’t quite understand why they didn’t show any of England’s matches. Still, it meant that when he next attended a game he understood why referees waved coloured cards about at infringements. Which was more than could be said about the names of some of the home players. Some of them might as well have been in double Dutch. Or Dutch at any rate. Others sounded as if they’d just come from South America. The away team was one of those foreign outfits. Jimmy thought his team had won and wondered why they were playing extra time till it was pointed out to him this was a two-leg tie and the scores after 180 minutes were equal. Jimmy found it hard to believe when the fan next to him said if the match was still level after extra time the team that had scored the most goals away from home would be declared winners. And if they were level on that score too they would take a series of penalty kicks to determine the victor. 

Jimmy, in common with many others, didn’t like football in the 1980s. He was loath to attend a match where fans could no longer mingle freely, which set up separate entrances and exits for home and away supporters with fences and wire separating them. Heysel, Bradford and Hillsborough horrified him. When he did eventually go to a game he found his suspicions of the previous decade were true. There were players of all different nationalities now playing in England.  Jimmy also noted the large number of black players. He’d only ever noticed one or two before but now there were as many as five or six in a side – some of them even played for England. It was a surprising game too. A team from one division was playing one from the division above. If they won then they changed divisions. Jimmy was sure he’d seen something similar almost a century ago

Jimmy’s final match of the 20th century, in the 1990s, was an altogether much better affair. He’d always liked standing in the open air but his advancing years meant he was glad of the all-seated, all-covered ground he now sat in – even if he felt sorry for those younger now forced to sit down. He noticed a few changes on the pitch too. A player deliberately fouling one who had a clear goalscoring opportunity was now sent off. Players could no longer waste time kicking the ball back and forth between defender and goalkeeper without incurring a free kick and tackling from behind merited dismissal too. And Jimmy could see which ones committed the offence as their names were all clearly displayed on the backs of their shirts – even if the front was obscured by advertising. Those strange play-offs back in the 1980s had changed too. Now it was just teams from the same division playing and it was possible for a team that finished twenty points behind another to win promotion.

Jimmy’s first 21st century experience was to attend a match where not only were the bulk of the players foreign but the managers were as well. He wondered why the fans around him were celebrating finishing fourth in the league. He was told – though he didn’t really believe it – that the team in fourth got to play in a competition for champions. How, Jimmy wondered, can a team be eligible for a tournament for international champions if they were fourth domestically? Still, at least he was glad he hadn’t picked a cup-tie to go to. The players’ names at those were even stranger than the foreign ones he knew were part of the modern game. They were what used to be called ‘the reserves.’ Jimmy was more familiar with players in Spain, Italy, Germany and France for he could watch matches from those countries on his huge widescreen TV every week.

At the only game he’s seen this decade Jimmy turned to the supporter sat next to him and asked what was the purpose of the strange spray paint can the referee was carrying. The man explained this was an innovation from the 2014 World Cup, used to make sure free kicks were taken from where the offence was committed and that defenders retreated the correct number of metres. Jimmy then asked what a metre was.

I know all this because I was the fan sat beside Jimmy at that game and after the match he recounted his fascinating history of watching football for well over 150 years. I sat rapt as his tale unfolded, from the 1850s to the 2010s and all the changes he had seen. As he rose to go at the final whistle I called him back and asked if it was possible for him to briefly sum up his opinion of the cumulative effect of everything he’d seen so that I could write about it. Jimmy said he would, turned to face me, smiled, and said:

“You’re not allowed to tackle these days.”
“Players are paid far too much money.”
“No one’s worth that much of a transfer fee”
“There’s no loyalty in the game anymore”
“Carlos Galactico will never be as good as Darren Superstar was”

“THE GAME’S NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE”






Monday, 14 August 2017

2017-18 - A New English Attendance Record?
By the end of this season the average attendance for the top flight in England will be the second or third highest in its 130-years history. It will be a new record high in the Premier League era.

That’s a pretty bald statement that will leave me looking foolish if it doesn’t happen. But it will. I doubt it will be the best. It won’t be fourth or lower. It will be either second or third. Bank on it. Guaranteed. 100%. Well, almost…………

How can I make this claim so confidently?  Let’s look at the targets first. The highest average ever recorded was 38,776 in 1948-49 with 37,400 the following season next best. Third highest came as recently as 2013-14 when the Premier League averaged 36,660.

Last season the average was 35,822 and the make-up of the division and stadia capacities ensures the figure will be higher this season.

As I say in my book' CROWDED HOUSES' - the English Premier League now fills well over 95% of available seats each and every match day. Only two avenues lie open to it with regard to increasing attendances. One is greater capacity through stadium modernisation or new build, and the other is dependent on promoted teams drawing bigger gates than the clubs they replace.

That’s why there has been very little rise or fall in the average in recent times. In the past fifteen seasons the lowest average has been 34,151 – in 2010-11 – just 2,509 below the highest. This consistency can be further demonstrated by comparing levels with those of the immediate post-war boom. Although the highs back then have still to be equalled the frequency of big crowds has been easily surpassed. Top flight gates averaged over 30,000 for the first ten post-war seasons. After dropping below that mark in 1956-57 they recovered to hit 30,000+ for the next three seasons.  They didn’t reach that level again until England’s World Cup win in 1966 sparked off another boom, with attendances averaging 30,000 or more for seven consecutive seasons from 1966-1973. From then until 1998 the 30,000 mark remained out of reach – often considerably so.


My recently published history of European football attendances - click to enlarge

By the end of 1997-98, league football had been played in England for 110 years. Excluding wartime that was 99 seasons. In just twenty of them the top division average hit 30,000 or better.

2017-18 will see that number doubled. This will be the twentieth season in succession that average gates have been over 30,000.

That is a stark indication of how long the Premier League has been ‘booming’ and how well it compares with what has gone before. There is one caveat and that is current seasons consist of 380 games played by twenty clubs. For much of the 20th century it was 462 matches and twenty-two clubs. The greater the number of both games and clubs the more difficult it becomes to achieve a high average as – usually, though not always – the ‘extra’ clubs are not among the best supported.

But let’s return to 2017-18 and see what’s in store in the coming months.  Why am I so sure my prediction is accurate? Accepting that most clubs will draw around the same as last season (which given capacity occupancy it’s reasonable to do) it’s necessary to compare promoted and relegated clubs. Sunderland were best supported of those going down with an average of 41,787. Middlesbrough drew 30,449 and Hull City 20,761. Promoted Brighton were watched by an average of 27,996 and that’s not going to fall in the big league. True, there’s little room for expansion. Their ground holds a little less than 31,000. But it’s a fair bet that their average will be in the same territory as Middlesbrough’s.  Huddersfield Town, with an average of 20,343 and a stadium that holds almost 25,000 are in much the same boat and their Premier League average will be pretty close to Hull City’s.

It’s the North-East that will provide the first big boost to gates. Newcastle United averaged 51,106 winning promotion, just over 1,000 below capacity. Again, there’s little room to expand but, crucially, they drew almost 10,000 more per match than Sunderland. Over a season that’s 190,000 more spectators and by itself would add 500 to the average crowd for the division. Even if the three promoted sides did no more than replicate their Championship figures they would still add over 300 to the average Premier League crowd.

And that’s the worst case scenario.

So the difference between promoted and relegated sides means the average would lie somewhere between 300-500 below the 2013-14 figure.

There’s precious little to be added via stadium expansion this season so even with the increase Newcastle will bring, that third place still looks out of sight. Here’s where capacity comes into play for, as the song says, Spurs are on their way to Wembley. Restrictions at White Hart Lane in 2016-17 meant Tottenham averaged just 31,639. For their Wembley season they have made 40,000 season tickets available (this number has been capped so as to ensure all season book holders will be able to guarantee a seat at the new White Hart Lane) and they have sold all 40,000.

Before a single person other than a season ticket holder walks into Wembley this season that’s almost 160,000 more over the course of the campaign. That adds in excess of a further 400 to the division’s average.

That now takes us – in the worst case scenario – to around 100 below the 2013-14 third highest ever.

We haven’t yet even considered away supporters at Spurs home games. To make up that 100 overall ‘shortfall’ away fans need to average 2,000 at Spurs matches. An average of anything over 42,000 at Tottenham home games would mean 2013-14’s third highest ever would be surpassed.

That’s predicated on promoted teams doing no better than last season and the rest of the division drawing the same as before. Without making a prediction as to what Tottenham’s actual average is going to be (they haven’t played a single match there at the time of writing), it’s a safe bet that it will be significantly in excess of 42,000 and would easily accommodate any surprise drop elsewhere.

That 2017-18 will exceed 2013-14 is  - as I hope I have demonstrated – not in any doubt.

Spurs are on their way to Wembley - click to enlarge

What about second place? Is that achievable? Undoubtedly yes? Will it happen? I think so but there’s no guarantee. To match the 1949-50 figure of 37,400 there needs to be an increase in Premier League crowds of 600,000. Again, taking a worse case scenario with regard to the promoted clubs they will still add 120,000 to last season’s total.  That leaves a difference of 480,000 for Spurs to make up, all else being equal. An average of 57,000 would do it. If there was a fall elsewhere, an average of 60,000 should compensate and 65,000 would do it for certain.

Will Spurs draw those sorts of numbers to Wembley? Not just once or twice for showpiece games but match after match?

In their favour is the example of West Ham United. A club that had never averaged 35,000 in their history drew a shade under 57,000 after moving to the Olympic Stadium. No disrespect intended to the Hammers but Spurs have a much greater history of large crowds and have averaged over 50,000 several times in the past.  In four UEFA games at Wembley last season, two were over 85,000, a third hit 80,000 and the lowest of all still drew 62,000.

Factor in the larger number of tickets available for other London clubs visiting – Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham and Palace will all bring substantial numbers of supporters – and the sheer novelty of seeing their team play at Wembley for fans of many clubs elsewhere in the country and it’s easy to see Tottenham drawing an average in excess of every club in the league bar Man Utd.

But it must remain open to question. Just being in Europe allied to undoubtedly greater live TV coverage casts some doubt on their chances as few matches will be played on Saturdays at 3pm and many fans will face long journeys for evening or noon kick-offs on dates yet to be announced.

Attendances at the first three or four Wembley matches should provide the answer. My feeling is that the attractions of Wembley as a league venue will outweigh the difficulties involved and the 37,400 mark will be breached. But whereas I am 100% certain 2013-14 will be surpassed I’d reduce that to around 65% for overcoming 1949-50.

That leaves just one more target – that all-time record average of 38,776 in 1948-49. Can it be beaten? Could it happen this season? My answers are yes and possible but highly unlikely respectively.

To take the second part first. To breach the all-time record requires in excess of well over a million more spectators this season than last. Allowing this time for the best case scenario of the promoted clubs adding 200,000 to the total it leaves over 900,000 more to watch Spurs – if numbers are static elsewhere. To put it in stark terms Spurs need to draw over 150% more in 2017-18 than they did in 2016-17.  It would take an average of around 78,000 for the record to have any chance of being threatened. That’s higher than any English club has ever achieved in 130 years of league football. Yet it is only slightly more than Man Utd draw week in week out and is a figure they would surely beat had they the capacity to do so. So it is undoubtedly possible. Looking at the average scenario of the promoted teams adding ‘only’ 150,000 in total it becomes much harder. It means Spurs would have to draw almost one million more on their own – or an average close to 83,000.

That’s more than watch the best supported club in the world – Borussia Dortmund – and to my thinking at least is a step too far.

The record CAN be beaten though. Of that I am certain. It needs the ‘right’ promotions and relegations to do it. Let’s take the 150,000 I’m sure the promoted teams will add this season. Then allocate Spurs the same numbers as Arsenal currently draw when their new stadium is complete. That would leave just under 450,000 more spectators to be added to create a new record. Aston Villa being promoted and Bournemouth relegated would match that figure almost exactly, based on Villa’s previous attendances in the Premier League.

If you want to guarantee it then have Liverpool or Everton move into a larger stadium. Or see Sunderland come back up with Villa while Burnley or Swansea join Bournemouth at the bottom. For added security relegate both of those clubs along with Bournemouth and promote any one of a dozen other Championship sides capable of drawing 25,000 or more in the Premier League.

In short, a record which has stood for almost seventy years and which has long been regarded as set in perpetuity can be broken. All it needs is the relegation of a couple of clubs with the smallest support at the same time as the promotion of two – possibly just one – clubs with a big following.  It may not even need that.  Theoretically it could even happen this season – but that would mean Spurs leaping not just from the middle of the English rankings to the top but to become the best supported team in the world. I doubt it will happen this term.
Bournemouth’s Dean Court – by far the smallest Premier League ground - click to enlarge

I was going to leave it there but I think I should clarify what I referred to earlier regarding the difference in club numbers and matches played in the 1940s as opposed to now. In ‘CROWDED HOUSES’ I compared the 2013-14 figure with the previous third best of 36,217 in 1947-48. To equalise matters I deducted the attendance figures both home and away of the two relegated sides in that season so as to compare like with like. That led to the 1947-48 figure rising by just over 2,000 per game. To genuinely top the existing record would require at least a further 750,000 spectators over the season. The law of diminishing returns regarding promoted and relegated sides makes this highly unlikely. The chances of having a sufficiently high number of clubs with the largest grounds being in the Premier League at the same time are remote. In 2017-18 nine of the twenty largest grounds in England belong to clubs not currently in the Premier League.



Wednesday, 12 April 2017

BOOKS BY DAVID ROSS

My books are available at these locations - with full descriptions and extracts in all formats.

Lulu

Amazon

CROWDED HOUSES NOW AVAILABLE


My new book 'CROWDED HOUSES' is now available.  Paperback edition and  e-book
Excerpts are available for both.
Click to enlarge


What can you expect from it? Well, there are several excerpts in blog posts from this year but I'll let the book's introduction speak for itself.

It’s a perennial post-match topic. Along with scepticism over refereeing decisions, doubts about penalty kicks, uncertainty of offside calls and animated expressions of delight/disgust at the game in general, debate over attendances invariably pops up. “What do you think the crowd was?” is part of the football fan’s staple conversation.

I first began to take a wider interest in attendances in the 1980s when I noticed that press reports of English matches usually contained an exact crowd figure while those of Scottish games were more likely to be estimates ending in two or three zeroes. So began my personal odyssey to discover the truth or otherwise behind the estimates. Like Odysseus but fortunately minus Calypso, Cyclops, Sirens or Lotus-Eaters, it was a voyage that took many years to complete. Ultimately, it came to fruition in my book ‘The ROAR of the Crowd.’ Its generally favourable reception motivated me to expand my interest. I decided that one day I would return to the topic but this time would look at Europe as a whole. Since then research has become easier thanks to the increasing availability of source material online. The days of long journeys to cold libraries to pore for hours over decaying microfiches are thankfully long gone. Yet just like ‘ROAR’ this book has been many years in the making.

The aim is to look at the rises and falls in crowd figures, to see what factors are at play, what similarities or differences prompt movement in one direction or the other, to compare countries of equal size and to disseminate more widely information otherwise unknown. I’ve endeavoured to cover every country in UEFA, even those with no or little information available. I’ve looked at domestic leagues and European club competitions. I’ve sought to accord appropriate coverage to each country. I’ve also tried to delve down as deeply as I can into the lower levels of the game, to the fifth and subsequent tiers. England and Scotland are the most prominent but Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Russia and others also feature heavily and no nation is omitted.

The biggest problem was knowing when to stop. The football season has no natural concluding point these days. For example, the 2015-16 Champions and Europa Leagues qualifiers kicked off less than 48 hours after the conclusion of the 2014-15 season in Spain. There are also several countries whose seasons run from March-November each year. So a cut-off date has to be arbitrary and December 31st 2016 is that date here (though a few important events in early 2017 have managed to squeeze themselves in).

Information on some countries is scant and in one or two cases almost non-existent, while others present a bewildering array of often contradictory figures. Wherever possible I have used official figures issued by leagues and national associations. Where these aren’t available I have looked at numbers as provided on official club websites and after that reputable media outlets.

Occasionally this results in a conflict and in such instances I have opted to go for the figure more commonly used so where, for instance, I have found three sources citing a figure of 20,000 and two of 15,000 I have accepted the one with the most sources.

Inevitably there will be differences between some of the numbers here and what the reader may have seen elsewhere. Alas, there is no universally agreed format for determining exactly what constitutes an attendance. Is it all those present in the ground? Or simply those who PAID to gain admission? Does it include those who paid for admission but didn’t turn up? Are complimentary tickets to be included? Visiting officials and staff? Police and stewards taking a sneaky look at the action? Catering stall workers craning their necks over their customers’ heads to catch a glimpse of the game? The press and TV crews?

At first glance some of these suggestions may seem strange, but consider this: the record attendance for any match ever played in Europe was the Scotland v England international in May 1937. Two figures are often mentioned in the record books – 149,415 and 149,547. How can the discrepancy of 132 between the two figures be explained? Well, there were exactly 132 places in the Hampden Park press box.

At any rate I hope this illustrates the problems that can arise when assessing the accuracy of the crowd numbers or at least explain why you will often see two or more different attendances claimed for the same match. But while I can’t claim 100% accuracy for the content herein and fully accept any errors are mine and mine alone (for which please accept humble advance apologies), I am confident that the information contained is as accurate as is possible and that the general conclusions regarding totals, averages, occupancy rate and rankings are correct and any minor discrepancies would have no impact on them.

I mentioned previously the difficulty in finding a suitable cut-off point for inclusion. The same applies to introductions. Thanks for buying.