Fans flock to see Town

STAND aside Boys of '81, move over FA Cup winners of 1978 – Joe Royle's current Ipswich Town side have more power to pull in the public than either of you, writes Steve Mellen.

STAND aside Boys of '81, move over FA Cup winners of 1978 – Joe Royle's current Ipswich Town side have more power to pull in the public than either of you, writes Steve Mellen.

In fact the boys in blue of 2004-05 are attracting better crowds than most times in the club's history, and as they approach the final home match against Crewe Alexandra on April 30 they are closing in on becoming the second best-supported side in Portman Road history – beaten only by the team which Bobby Robson managed in the 1976-77 season.

Town finished third in Division One that year, watched by an average crowd of 26,668. The current side, with one game to go, can post an average attendance for league matches of 25,533.

The figures have to be put into context – for large parts of the 1990s Portman Road could only hold just over 22,000 supporters after going all-seater – but it's still an impressive vote of confidence in the current side, and compares well with the heady days of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when European qualification was the norm and high league placings were common.


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In comparison with other sides, it beats the average crowd this season at five Premiership clubs – Fulham, Crystal Palace, Norwich City, Blackburn Rovers and Portsmouth – and is the fifth best in the Championship, where Leeds United top the charts despite their poor

season.

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Town's chief executive Derek Bowden put the high crowds down to a simple formula of attractive football in a season when Town have won 16 of their home games.

"I think if you win football matches, and win them well, then people will want to come and watch you," he said.

"It's a great average and we're very pleased, especially when you think that we budgeted for an average crowd of 21,500 at the start of the season.

"It's higher than last season, and also the season before, so we're delighted. Obviously the new faclilities have a lot to do with it, and we couldn't get all the fans in without the new stands, but the main reason is a simple one – we're playing good, attacking football."

A trip through the history books shows that after the 1976-77 team, the next best-supported Ipswich side is the one that failed to make the play-offs in the 2002-03 season, when Joe Royle took over from George Burley. Crowds averaged 25,454 that season.

The following season saw the next best figures – 24,737, and then you have to go all the way back to the side which won the UEFA Cup in 1981, and ended as runners-up to Aston Villa in the league, for the next best-supported team – backed by an average crowd of 24,619.

Then comes the team relegated under George Burley in the 2001-02 season. Despite a poor home record that side managed to keep the average up at 24,425.

Of course should the Blues get promoted this season, all those figures could be put in the shade.

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