Dave Seddon’s Preston North End Press View: Fall-off in crowd numbers is a concern

Preston North End’s game against Fulham was played in weather where you really needed to huddle together to keep warm.

By Dave Seddon
Friday, 3rd December 2021, 4:45 pm

The trouble was there were precious few folk inside Deepdale to generate warmth and stop the Baltic conditions biting.

An attendance of 9,838 was given for the 1-1 draw, with 886 Cottagers fans hauling themselves up from London for the early start.

That meant just 8,952 North Enders were recorded as being in the crowd.

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The low turnout for last Saturday’s game against Fulham is a concern

It was the second time this season the numbers had dropped below 10,000 for a Championship game, Peterborough’s visit in August seeing an attendance of 9,952.

The season’s high for a league game at Deepdale was 18,092 for Derby County’s visit – the day supporters turned out to honour the memory of Trevor Hemmings.

It was £5 a seat that day, with 15,644 in the home stands and 2,448 Rams followers in the Kop.

The ‘sold out’ signs went up for Liverpool’s visit in the Carabao Cup as 22,131 clicked through the turnstiles.

However, the bread and butter of league football just isn’t attracting the numbers and that is a big concern.

I do think there were some mitigating factors for the Fulham crowd being as low as it was.

As I alluded to at the start of the article, it was bitterly cold. While we only got the edges of Storm Arwen, that had been blowing around the day before the game.

Arwen gave way to plunging temperatures on Saturday morning and things had hardly warmed up by kick-off at 12.30pm. The game was live on Sky, a factor which will always shave a few off the crowd.

On that particularly point, lunchtime starts for live broadcasts at Deepdale have been thin on the ground in recent seasons, making it difficult to compare.

The last one with fans in the ground was on Easter Monday 2018 when Derby won 1-0 here.

The crowd that day was 13,520, the Rams bringing a fair few and North End still in with a shout of the play-offs at the time.

Back to the present and there was the genuine fear of being well beaten by Fulham too – their previous visit to Lancashire had seen them pump Blackburn 7-0.

The previous week’s second-half performance against Cardiff wasn’t exactly a selling point either.

So the weather, early start the game being on the television and the low expectation levels were all factors in the lowest league crowd for a good number of seasons.

While that is some explanation for last Saturday, the queues have hardly formed this season.

Results will always be in fans’ thinking of whether to come or not.

There’s no hiding that North End have been riddled with inconsistency this season – the only time things have levelled out being that run of draws in September.

Some of the faithful are not fans of Frankie McAvoy’s, either his appointment in general or the approach he favours in games.

If we thought fans would flock back to Deepdale after the Covid shutout ended, we were wrong.

Maybe in the 17 months when football grounds were empty vessels, people found other things to do?

Whatever it is or whatever combination of factors, it has tipped attendances in the wrong direction. It will be interesting what the attendance is for the Barnsley game next Saturday, the last home match before Christmas.

Should North End get a decent result at Blackburn, on top of the Fulham draw, I’d expect it to creep back beyond the 10,000 mark.

But that is still far from healthy and a concern.

Even the away support has taken a hit, not in terms of games on the road in general, but the following going to Blackburn.

There have been 7,000 plus in the Darwen End for recent trips to Rovers, 6,000 minimum.

But the numbers will be short of that at Ewood Park, perhaps this season’s visit watered down by North End’s renewed rivalry with Blackpool.

The manner in which they lost at Bloomfield Road six weeks ago, remains raw.

That said, it will still be a decent percentage of last week’s attendance which makes the trip along the M65. There’s clearly work to done – and lots of it – to try and attract fans back.

Those who froze through 90 minutes against Fulham at least were treated to a decent PNE performance.

The first 20/25 minutes weren’t the best from a home perspective but once they grew into the game it was a very decent watch.

In the second half it was a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’ an equaliser came, a touch of luck coming North End’s way when Emil Riis’ handball from Ched Evans’ first header went unseen by the officials. Referee Chris Kavanagh was visiting from the Premier League for the day and probably wished he’d had VAR with him.

VAR would have ruled out Evans’ equaliser but also surely would have seen Antonee Robinson receive a harsher punishment than the yellow card he got for the foul on Tom Barkhuizen.

I think it is difficult for referees normally on duty in the top flight to come down to the EFL now that VAR is in use in the Premier League.

Their safety net is taken away and games do have to be refereed a bit differently.

It used to be quite a big thing when you saw one of the main referees had the whistle for your game.

But I’m not sure if that is a good thing anymore and it might be better now for the select group to stay in the Premier League.

That is in no way doubting their ability but if nine times out of 10 they were officiating side-by-side with VAR, it must be difficult not having the benefit of reviews in games in the EFL.

I’m not VAR’s greatest fan, with the width of a toenail seen as enough to carry a player offside. That’s an argument for another day.