Two years ago I wrote an article about the worst supported league in Europe an honour won by Estonia’s Meistriliiga with its average attendance of just 160. Since then, thanks to the bizarre changes put in place by UEFA President it is now easier than ever for the Estonian Champions to progress in the Champions League. This season Flora Tallinn lost in the second qualifying round to Shamrock Rovers. Should have had won in this tie they could have been drawn against other small sides such as Rangers, Benfica and FC Copenhagen.
So what has changed in the last two years? What is the top of the bottom league in Europe? Here is your top ten, in reverse order:-
10th – Moldova (average attendance 759)
Half the clubs in the Divizia Nationala average less than 400, or about the same as St Neots Town, Bradford Park Avenue or Basingstoke Town. The winners of this league, go into the Champions League at the Second Round Stage.
9th – Lithuania (701)
All bar two teams average less than a thousand. Football is not the main sport in Lithuania – that honour belongs to basketball.
8th – Montenegro (601)
Europe’s newest nation, and one of the most impressive national team debuts although their domestic league is still poorly supported. OFK Petrovac play in front of the same number of people who watch Horsham on a regular basis.
7th – Armenia (572)
Back in 1974, FC Aravat Yerevan reached the European Cup quarter final, losing to Bayern Munich in front of a full house. Last season they averaged 207 in a league who averaged less than Farnborough.
6th – Faroe Islands (512)
In the land of puffins it isn’t much of a surprise that football isn’t that well supported, although with less than 50,000 people living there crowds are quite reasonable. Last season the champions, HB Torshavn lost in the second qualifying round to Malmö FF.
5th – Latvia (466)
One of the leagues in Europe that is dominated by just two games, although Ice Hockey is far better supported than football. It is only eight years ago since Latvia shocked European football by reaching Euro2004 in Portugal, the high-point in their footballing history.
4th – Wales (339)
It must be incredibly hard for Welsh League teams such as Neath and Llanelli to draw crowds when Swansea City are taking on the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea just down the road. In addition factor in the fact that Rugby Union is the most popular spectator sport in the region and you can see that any club does well to progress. Last season champions Bangor City lost 13-0 to HJK Helsinki in the second qualifying round of the Champions League.
3rd – Luxembourg (306)
One of Europe’s smallest football playing countries still cannot muster enough more interest in their domestic game than Thurrock, Droylsden and Margate. The league is dominated by two teams – AS La Jeunnesse Esch, who are the best supported, and F91 Dudelange who are the perennial champions, and last season actually won a game in the Champions League, beating Andorra’s Santa Coloma in the first round before losing 5-1 to Maribor.
2nd – Malta (224)
It is hard to quantify the exact attendance figures for the Maltese Premier League as six of the twelve teams play their home games at the same stadium, the Ta’Qali national stadium, often on the same day, meaning fans from up to six teams will be coming and going. Even on the one occasion we attended one of the festivals of football (see here), there was no more than a hundred or so fans in the stadium.
And the winner…..AGAIN…Estonia (203)
Last season was a watershed in Estonian football as the average attendance broke the 200 mark for the first time ever. That is in part to the champions JK Nömme Kalju who averaged over 500 and next season will will try their hand in the Champions League for the first time. Seven of the teams in the top league average less than 200. The worst supported team in the league, FC Ajax Lasnamäe get less fans than Lewes’s Under 18s.
Can they make it three in a row next year? I cannot see anyone else getting close currently, so for now let’s raise a glass to ESTONIA, home of the absent fan.