Who watches the most football in Europe? Average attendances by population across European top-flight leagues

I’d promised myself that I’d take a break from the stats and that my next post would be an actual match report of a real life game, complete with pictures of tea hut’s, but I can’t resist a challenge and one just happen to have occurred in this thread under an article on Scottish football on the WSC website, so thanks to Alex Anderson’s question about how per capita attendances for European leagues. I’ve knocked up this graph:


I’ve not quite done what was asked which is to look at the per-capita attendance for all senior games within each country, but what I have done is taken the figures for average attendances from the top divisions (using data from my favorite website European Football Statistics) and using population figures from the  UN Human Development Report, or in the case of England and Scotland the Census (as the UN report only gives a population figure for Great Britain as a whole) I’ve then worked out what the average attendance figure is as a proportion of the total population, so essentially what the figures show is the proportion of the total population who attend, on average, each top-flight game.

As predicted by Alex Scotland is near the top – in second place, with, on average, 0.26% of the population attending each top flight game -though it’s not Albania, but Iceland who are keeping them from the number one position where 0.37% of the population take in each individual match. At the other end of the scale the average attendance for a Russian top-flight game accounts for just 0.003% of the population.

Just for fun I’ve calculated what average attendances would be if, in every country, the same proportion of the population attended top-flight games as in Scotland:


Were the ratios the same the average attendance for the Russian top-flight would be some 373 309 whilst in Germany attendances would be 214 515 – figures in excess of the capacities of some of the worlds largest stadiums.




  1. Brilliant, enzee199. Fascinating stats and, if I’m honest, the second graph illustrated a favourite argument of mine in a way I found pretty, well – cant believe I’m going to say this – moving.

    I’m constantly trying to explain to people (bus drivers, old ladies doing their shopping, the postman)that Scotland has woefully underperformed on the international stage. When met with the “small country” argument I immediately cite Uruguay’s national team and the All Blacks Rugby team – nations even smaller than Scotland using their mono-sport fixation to produce positive results rather than continual internal rancour. And, of course, how many World Cups has China won? … in football or rugby.

    To brutalise an old line which probably precedes a training montage in a martial arts movie, it’s not the size of the population but the size of the passion for the sport (and, of course, there’s a massive Chinese influence on martial arts coz that’s one of their passions).

    Now I have a much better way of illustrating it – i.e. if Germany was as passionate about football as Scotland there’d be over 200,000 at every Bundesliga match.

    And, of course the only time there was ever 200,000 at a football match, it was Brazil throwing away the World Cup in the Maracana … against TINY WEE URUGUAY!

    But, the real question we have to ask ourselves is what the hell happened to Albanian football??!! Or did I grow up thinking Reykjavic was somewhere in the Balkans …?

    Thanks for that research, enzee – powerful stuff.

    • No worries Alex,glad you liked the graph. Making it I was struck by just how big football is in Scotland. To have a top league boasting an average attendance of almost 14 000 per game on a population of some 5.3 million is a colossal feat. Countries with similar population sizes such as Finland, Denmark and Norway managed 2159, 7103 and just under 8000 respectively whilst Belgium with a population roughly double that of Scotland’s had an average attendance figure around just over 2000 less than Scotland.

      For me it puts things into a new perspective, but I think that on one level it is not surprising given Scotland’s rich footballing history – as I remember reading about in Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid book – which More Anglo-centric versions of football’s history tend to ignore,

      In terms of Iceland, from what I can glean from the internet football is the single biggest sport there – and it just happened to be a Scot, James B. Ferguson, who introduced them to the sport to the Icelanders in 1895.

      • I love these graphs too, the second one is especially eyeopening! To be utterly fair, though, it would be interesting to see how Scotland fared in these tables if its averages weren’t massively dragged upward almost solely by the huge attendances pulled in at Celtic and Rangers (yes, I know the latter aren’t in the top flight presently, but…), which are undeniably way, way in excess of any of the other clubs in the division. When two clubs are routinely drawing crowds of 45–50,000 yet their league is only averaging c.14,000, this is rather clear! I don’t believe that Iceland, Norway etc. can boast anything remotely like the large city of Glasgow with its two enormously successful and bitterly antagonistic rival teams, a situation that gives Scotland a built-in advantage in these comparisons that — let’s face it — really skews the statistics.

        In some ways it would be more interesting to see how the Old Firm (considered alone as a quasi-‘nation’) stacked up against the rest of the world, while a more ‘truthful’ benchmark in a way would be comparing the average attendances across each league with the top couple of clubs removed from the equations in each case — would be fascinating to see how Scotland minus Celtic and Rangers matches up against Portugal minus Benfica and Porto, say, or Uruguay minus Nacional and Penarol, as a measure of more ‘typical’ attendances.

        Incidentally, just tried to find the two Glasgow sides’ recent averages, and found this BBC article, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-22541130 — which demonstrates the effect on the SPL average of the relegation of Rangers:
        “The Scottish Premier League’s average attendance fell by 28%, from 13,855 to 10,020, although that figure was skewed by the liquidation of Rangers, who reformed in the Scottish Third Division”.

  2. Thanks Velvetandroid. You’re quite right in your observations. I too think it would be interesting to calculate the spread of attendances across clubs in different leagues which you can do using the data from the European football stats website – might well be one of my next posts!

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