In the previous parts of this series I’ve looked at the averages, but now it’s the turn of individual games. Across the whole of the Wessex League the attendance ranged from a high of 488 (Sholing v Bournemouth) to a low of 6 (Folland Sports v Laverstock & Ford)
For each division I’ve compiled a list of the ten fixtures which drew the biggest crowds. In the Premier Division Sholing scooped the two slots thanks to their fixtures against Bournemouth and Brockenhurst, which were both billed as free entry community days.
Granting a one-off free entry to a game to pull in the punters has been a strategy which has become increasingly prevalent in recent years, particularly among non-league clubs. And it does work – as Sholing have demonstrated, generating 450+ crowds on both occasions and being the only Wessex League club to break the 400 barrier. (Incidentally I wrote a short piece on free entry games for WSC a couple of years back)
Also guaranteed to get the crowds flocking is the prospect of a derby. For me, the beauty of the Wessex League is the sheer abundance of local derbies. As for the biggest… that award goes to the Isle of Wight derby between Cowes Sports and Newport Isle of Wight which drew 359 fans to Cowes’s Westwood Park Ground and some 267 to Newport IoW’s St George’s Park. Another derby which set pulses racing was the New Forest Derby, between Bashley and Brockenhurst which achieved a crowd of 268 – the fourth highest crowd at any game in the Wessex League (the return fixture, though not in the top 10 was nevertheless Brockenhurst’s highest gate of the season attracting 181 fans to Grigg Lane. Similarly in the top 10 list of biggest Division One gates derby games also feature. Top of the list is the North Hampshire derby between Alton and Andover New Street which saw 154 people pass through the turnstile, followed by the Salisbury area derby between Laverstock & Ford and Downton which was watched by 138 spectators.
The clubs which featured most though were the ones with consistently high attendances, in the Premier Division Portland made the top 10 three times with games against Bemerton Heath Harlequins (243), Team Solent (231) and Bashley (222) none of which could really be considered a local derby whilst in Division One Alton v Totton & Eling (136) was the third highest gate and again a game which could not be considered a derby. That said however, nothing quite matches a Wessex League derby day so next season it’s well worth booking a ferry ticket for the Island derby, or taking a day in the New Forest for one of the New Forest derbies.