Ipswich Town gates are down but there is room for optimism
- Credit: Andy Abbotty
Ipswich Town’s average attendance dropped by almost 800 this season but the signs are there that the club could be ready to buck the downward trend of recent years.
Ten years ago, the Blues ended their first campaign back in the second tier as the division’s fourth biggest supported club, with an average attendance of 25,351. Fast-forward a decade, and that figure stands at 17,526 – a drop of 7,825 fans.
Season 2005/06 aside, there has been a steady decline in numbers watching games at Portman Road and, apart from the play-off campaigns, there has been little to shout about.
In total, nine Championship clubs enjoyed an increase in their attendances this season but it must be taken into account that among that number are Charlton, Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday, all promoted from League One last season.
As for Brighton, another team that enjoyed an increase, from 20,229 in 2011/12 to 26,236 this season, the Seagulls were buoyed by a solid 10th-place finish back in the Championship and with a brand-new all-seater stadium for the fans to enjoy.
Town’s lowest gate of the season was, not surprisingly, the midweek home defeat to Derby County last October, a game which proved to be the last of Paul Jewell’s tenure.
A crowd of just 15,417 turned up that night as the Blues’ season reached desperation point.
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Mick McCarthy’s appointment at Portman Road brought back the feel-good factor to Suffolk and by the end of the season, Town had broken the 20,000 barrier on three occasions.
One was the game against Birmingham which included the ‘Kids for a Quid’ ticket offer, while Leeds always travel in numbers and Hull were chasing promotion.
That said, it is no coincidence that an upturn in form under McCarthy tempted more fans back.
Chairman of the Ipswich Town Supporters’ Club, Liz Edwards, said: “Crowds throughout the Championship dropped a lot (in 2012/13), and for a while we were very much part of that pattern.
“Up to the end of 2012, our average crowd had dipped below 17,000.
“From the start of 2013, when fans began to believe that we had turned a corner, the average crowd was 18,300, exactly the same as the previous season.
“And our average over the last four games was over 20,000.”
She added: “If we can compete around the top-six next season, I’d be very surprised if we don’t average at least 20,000 for the season, which would be real progress.”
Malcolm Thompson, Secretary of the ‘Spirit of 78’ independent Ipswich supporters’ club, agreed in part with Edwards but suggested the club may have to be more pro-active commercially.
“Before Mick McCarthy, the football was not pleasing to the eye,” he said.
“The biggest problem is it’s so expensive for people to come along and watch the game, not just the ticket prices, but food and drink too.
“Until they start putting the fans first, attendances will continue to drop.
“Hopefully a good start to the season may help boost the attendances but the club maybe need to do more off the field.”
An Ipswich Town spokesman added: “If the club wins football matches, the fans will come and get behind their team.
“Maybe the team has not won enough games in recent years and the fans have not had the success they deserve.
“We have also missed out on fixtures against the likes of Norwich and West Ham, which always provide bigger crowds.
“However, the way we finished the season under Mick McCarthy, and the run of form we embarked upon, was as good as any team and there is real optimism around Portman Road.
“Anyone who stayed behind to enjoy the ‘Lap of Appreciation’ from the players and management after the final home game of the season, against Birmingham will know it was one of the best they have seen for many years.”