Salisbury’s departure for the pastures of the Southern League means a new champion at the head of the Wessex League average attendance table…. step forward Portland.
Like Salisbury Portland completed a double of not just securing the highest average attendance, at 169, but also the league title and also in their first Wessex Premier season. There however, the similarities end for rather than being a fallen giant who has hit rock bottom, Portland entered the Premier Division from below, through Division One which they in turn only first entered in 2015 previously stepping-up from the Dorset Premier League. Impressively too Portland are in geographic terms rather out on a limb which may limit the number of away fans wanting to make the journey.
In a close second place were Bashley who averaged 165. The Bash have an illustrious Wessex League history – winning the inaugural title back in the 1986-87 season and the village team spent a number of years mixing it with the big boys in the Southern Premier League only to have recently fallen on tough times. The result of all those years at a higher level however, means the club has a good support base – of the kind who go to games wearing scarves, hats and badges. Bashley is also at the heart of the Wessex Premier New Forest/Waterside nexus which meant well attended derby fixtures against the likes of Brockenhurst (268), Lymington Town (240) and Blackfield & Langley (233)
Third placed Sholing, with an average attendance of 130, offered an interesting case as the club have this season experimented with free entry and community days as a method of engagement. Entry was free for games against Brockenhurst – where before the game teams from across the club posed for a combined photo – and the game against Bournemouth, which was combined with a community fun day. In terms of getting the crowds in both events were a success with the Brock game pulling in 464 and the Bournemouth game 488 –the two biggest crowds across the whole league. These two games have boosted Sholing’s average significantly (A rough calculation shows that disregarding these games Sholing’s average would have been 94, putting them in sixth place, between Cowes Sports and AFC Portchester) and it will therefore be interesting to see if Sholing, or other clubs do something similar next season.
At the other end of the attendance table are Team Solent who averaged just 24 spectators over the whole season. The ‘Sparks’ as they are known suffer from something I call works team syndrome. Although not a factory team Solent are broadly a similar case in that they enjoy the support of a large institution as a benefactor – in this case the University – for whom they are named after. It is often the case that the price of this is the lack of interest from the local community who may not feel the club represents them, whilst for their part ‘works’ teams do not need to maximise their spectator numbers so often community links go undeveloped. In Solent’s case this is a little bit of a shame as they are a good footballing side who on the three occasions I saw them last season played an exciting attacking style of football – perhaps the neutrals and groundhoppers best kept secret.
Promoted to the Wessex Premier as last seasons Division One runners-up Amesbury Town struggled on the pitch this season, finishing one spot above the relegation places in 19th. This may be a factor behind their low attendances which saw an average crowd of 29 at their ground – down from 50 in the 2015-16 season. Another factor could be the fact that promotion to the Premier meant the loss of two derby games against nearby Downton and Laverstock & Ford which attracted 74 and 72 spectators respectively in 2015-16. Finally, third from bottom are Bournemouth FC with 31. Like Amesbury Bournemouth had a tough Wessex Premier Season finishing in 17th place.
One interesting point to note is that Moneyfields, this season’s runners up who were also promoted to the Southern League, failed to entice many spectators to their Copnor ground with an average of just 55.Whether the club attract more playing at a higher level remains to be seen.
Change from 2015-16 by club
As we saw previously the average for the Wessex Premier as a whole dropped fairly significantly between 2015-16 and 2016-17, from 107 to 76.
This was mainly as a result of Salisbury’s promotion. Looking at a club-by-club basis it is clear to see that the biggest losers this season had either a close proximity to Salisbury, or else were clubs with low crowds and therefore with an average which was more sensitive to a sudden influx for one game. In 2015-16 Team Solent for instance saw a crowd of 387 for their game against Salisbury, whilst this season their biggest was 45 for the visit of Alresford Town. The loss of Salisbury was also keenly felt by near-neighbours Bemerton Heath Harlequins who saw 620 spectators squeeze past their turnstyles for the derby-day visit of Salisbury in 2015-16. The promotion of Amesbury Town meant that though Bemerton would have a game which they could regard as a local derby which drew a season-best crowd it could not realistically fill the Salisbury sized gap and attracted only 102 spectators.
Only seven clubs in the Wessex Premier improved their average attendance. Heading this group was Portland United. Having been in Division One last season granted immunity from the Salisbury effect and it seems that playing at a higher level has brought an average of an additional 35 fans to each game.
Sholing boosted their average by 20 from 2015-16, chiefly as a result of the very high attendances from the free entry games against Brockenhurst (464) and Bournemouth (488) which more than made up for the loss of the 407 fans who had visited their ground to watch Salisbury the previous season. The third biggest gainer was Fareham Town who boosted their average by 14. Again Salisbury may have had an impact as in 2015-16 Salisbury recorded one of their lowest on-the-road crowds at Fareham with only 156 spectators turning up.
I was unable to obtain the figures for Bashley’s average attendance for last season in the Southern League South & West, though I did manage to find a figure of 109 which was for only part of the 2015-16 season. If this is the case then their figure of 165 for 2016-17 represents a huge improvement.
On the road
Finally I decided to take a look at how teams compared when it came to the crowds they attracted whilst on-the-road. As you can see, compared to the home attendances there is much more similarity which suggests that significant travelling support is a little bit of a rarity in the Wessex League. Brockenhurst top the table having attracted an average of 103 fans to their away fixtures, largely helped by that free game against Sholing. The free game at Sholing also sees Bournemouth near the top with 83. In second though are Bashley who saw 91 people on average turning out to watch them take on the home side. I crossed paths with them myself at Brockenhurst and can confirm that Bashley do indeed have a reasonable away following. In third are Sholing with 87 – and I believe from what I’ve seen that Sholing do make an effort to encourage their support and offered coach travel to Portland in 2016-17