Is that all you have at home?

12389631394_b0baf187aa_zDespite all the grumblings of being a Non-League fan, we have it quite good in England.  Down here in the seventh tier of English football we often see crowds break the four figure barrier, even on occasions pulling in bigger crowds than teams in the Football League.  In the Evostik League North, FC United of Manchester average nearly 1,900, whilst five other clubs have recorded crowds of over 1,000.  In the Ryman Premier League Maidstone United continue to set the standard, averaging over 1,700 whilst both Margate and Dulwich Hamlet can lay claim to gates in excess of 2,000 so far this season.  Down at The Dripping Pan we’ve averaged just over 500 so far this season, a figure that would have been much higher if our lucrative game in January against Dulwich Hamlet would have gone ahead.  Whilst every club at our level wants bigger crowds and has to constantly fight to grab the attention of the fan who parks their car outside the ground before heading off on public transport to the Premier/Football League side down the road, we aren’t doing that bad when we look at the situation in other European leagues.

Bar Germany, nowhere else in Europe has such an extensive league pyramid.  In fact, scratch below the surface of the major leagues in other countries and you will see games played in front of one man and his dog.  Whilst the best support leagues in Europe rarely change from season to season (Germany, England, Spain, Italy and France), the worst supported leagues may raise an eyebrow or two. So here is your definitive guide to the five worst supported top football leagues in Europe*

5th Place – Montenegro (average attendance – 473)
The “Black Mountains” of the Balkans, Montenegro only got their place at the UEFA table in 2006. Prior to that they were lumped in with Yugoslavia (until 1991) and then Serbia.  Water Polo is deemed to be the most popular sport, although a silver medal in the 2012 Olympics for Womens Handball has given rise to anpther distraction from watching the domestic T-Com Prva CFL.  The best supported team is FK Sutjeska Nikšić of course, who regularly attract crowds of nearly 1,000 although the biggest club is FK Budućnost Podgorica who have fallen on harder times and have to make do with just crowds of around 700 floating around the 12,000 capacity national stadium, the Pod Goricom.

4th Place – Faroe Islands (average attendance – 472)
With a population of around 50,000, the fact that 1% regularly watch the domestic EffoDeildin is actually pretty impressive – significantly more than virtually every other nation in the world.  Considering the only other leisure activities involve puffin watching, lace knitting or sheep baiting, then football is actually a very passionate affair on the islands.  B36 Tórshavn are the best supported and most successful side, regularly trying their hand to progress in the Champions League qualifying rounds.  They play at the national stadium, the Gundadalur, a short work from the bright lights of central Tórshavn in front of an average 774, with derbies against HB often attracting crowds of over 2,000.

3rd Place – Wales (average attendance – 324)
6013190150_0da9e359be_zDespite the promise of three European spots for the twelve teams who complete in the Corbett Sport Welsh Premier League (plus a fourth spot for the winners of the Welsh Cup), the clubs fail to attract the attention of the Cardiff City/Swansea City/Wrexham/Newport County supporting locals.  Add in the distractions of major European Rugby Union most weekends and you can see why the domestic game struggles to grab the attention of the locals.  In the past few seasons, Neath FC tried to raise the bar by bringing in players like former Football League sharp-shooter Lee Trundle, but soon found themselves in financial ruin and out of the league.  Today, most games are played out in front of less than 500 fans with Bangor City the best supported, gaining some new fans after their run in the Champions League qualifying competition this year and their picturesque Nantporth ground on the banks of the Menai Straits.  Port Talbot Town, sitting in between Cardiff and Swansea are bottom of the attendance list, although their Victoria Road ground allows you to watch games from the comfort of your car.

2nd Place – Latvia (average attendance – 276)
It’s all about Ice Hockey in Latvia when those long winter nights descend on cities like Riga.  Football takes a back seat, despite a decent national team showing over the past few years.  Domestic crowds in the catchily-named Virsliga are on a par with the majority of teams in the Ryman Premier League with only FK Liepāja breaking the 1,000 mark.  Stadiums are more akin to county league standards although the beer is cheaper.  The big Riga derby played between former champions Skonto and Metta is normally played out in front of a 90% empty national stadium.

1st Place – Estonia (average attendance – 255)
this-is-first-division-football-tallinn-styleAs an outsider, you may wonder what Estonians have to do if it isn’t pitching up to watch a game of football each week.  Well, having visited the beautiful city of Tallinn I can suggest that the local “attractions” keep the locals amused come 3pm on a Saturday.  Add in some cheap beer, even cheaper local spirits and their love of Ice Hockey and Basketball and you can understand why an average Meistriliiga game is only watched by 255.  The best supported team, Flora Tallinn who play in the 10,000 all seater Le Coq Arena often break the 1,000 mark but the rest of the league get crowds that wouldn’t look out of place in the Ryman League South.

* We do not have any figures for potentially smaller leagues such as Andorra or Malta.

The worst supported leagues in Europe

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.

The worst supported league in Europe

Currently there are 53 countries affiliated to UEFA.  These are countries who are allowed to play in tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup and of course the European Championships.  But there are only 52 which actually have a league of their own as Liechtenstein do not organise a league, preferring to play in the Swiss leagues.  But which one is actually the worst supported?  Step forward the Meistriliiga in one of my favourite countries, Estonia.

Yes, with an average attendance in their top league of just 180 people, Estonia can claim to have the worst support league in Europe.  Others come close, such as Georgia (average attendance 690), Latvia (448), Lithuania (880) and even San Marino (210) but Estonia take the dubious honour of having less people interested in the game than any other country.  Their top league has 10 teams which means on an average Saturday (or Sunday) a grand total of 940 fans will be attending games in the top division.  With a population of 1.33 million this means that only 0.07% of the population watch football.  To put that in context:-

England (Premier League) – Average attendance is 34,040 – population is 51,446,000 – 0.66% watch games
Germany (Bundesliga) – Average attendance is 42,790 (highest in the world) – population is 82,060,000 – 0.52%
Italy (Seria A) – Average Attendance is 23,890 – population is 60,231 – 0.4%

It is not even as if the weather can be blamed either.  Estonia play their football in the warmest months from March to November.  Since the split from the Soviet Union in 1991 the league has been dominated by two teams, both from Tallinn – FC Flora and Levadia who have won the title on 14 occasions.  The former dominated the league in the early days and won their last title in 2003 and since then Levadia have won every one bar one.  Neither of them are the top supported team though, with that honour going to JK Nomme Kalju who also come from the capital city Tallinn.

We have experienced this sleepy football first hand in Estonia when we visited the two main stadiums in the city in one day (see here for the full story) and was genuinely shocked at the lack of interest.  FC Flora play in the national stadium, the Le Coq Arena and have an average crowd of 161.  Two years ago entry was 30EEK or the equivalant of £1.75 which means gate receipts would be a total of £280 assuming everyone paid, which I doubt.  So where exactly does the money come from to pay the rent, the players, the staff?  And how much motivation to the players get running out in a stadium that holds 9,000 when there is a single section with a few fans in?

So hats off to Estonia for having officially the crappiest league in Europe.

Pretty Girls and Sunburnt Men

Tallinn is such a wonderful place. In the summer it has everything for a perfect evening – cheap and plentiful beer, excellent steak restaurants, almost constant sunshine and of course some of the most beautiful women in the world. Whilst Bratislava may slightly nudge it in terms of overall prettiness, the Estonians have the right attitude – full of smiles, winks and those little nudges that give us old blokes some hope that our boat has come in. So, when the draw was made for the European Championships, and Tallinn came up as an option for England in June it was a trip that no red blooded man to resist.

However, there were two main problems….Firstly, as you will have read, dear subscriber, from my earlier posts that the stadium in Tallinn is small. And England, now replenished with Mr Beckham, are a big big draw. Therefore, in a theory created by Newton you can determine that small stadium x Huge English Following x Massive local interest = f all tickets. Interest was huge from day one – the one daily flight with Easyjet soon went through the roof….What I find amazing with their pricing model is that it pays no attention to simple Economics. Sure, I realise the principal that seat prices will go up as demand increases, but there is a limit at which people will not pay for that seat – in this case it was the ludicrous £349 return. It is very easy to see when this limit is reached as that flight permanently had a return available….Other options included Estonia Air but as a flag carrier again pricing was ludicrous…..

So, the usual bartering of stories started on the forums – £x via Amsterdam, £y via Berlin and so on. Well, I was in a lucky position. By leaving my flight as late as possible I managed to get a return from Copenhagen for just £43! With worth picking up my Stansted return to the city now known as CPH I was able to take a 1/2 day leave and keep my fingers crossed for a ticket. 740 seats were made available, after the football family and in a move to stop “cap fraud” – of which the vast majority of England Fans felt us top cappers were guilty of, tickets had to be collected on the day of the game….I was lucky (just by my calculations – but then again I have written nice things about the FA in the past)….

So, there’s the background….Landing at Tallinn’s tiny airport at 6pm I had 3 hours to get into the city, drop my bag off and then head on off down to the stadium. No big drinking sessions for me on this trip – a functional trip without any frills. After the taxi had dropped us in the city centre, we walked through the perfect old town square (2 Irish Bars, 1 Indian restaurant, 3 Strip/Lap dancing clubs)…The strong sunshine highlighted the array of St George’s crosses but the ironic “No Surrender’s” were for once missing from the terrraces of Molly Malones. A swift half (well 0.5 litres is a half here) was in order, just to see how the locals were warming to the English. There was certainly a fine selection of waiting staff happy to enjoy the banter with the fans. The hotel I was staying at, the Kalev Waterpark was in fact a small hotel tacked on a big swimming pool. I had come prepared with my shorts – but alas the Estonian world was denied the chance to see the infamous Fuller legs by a Speedo-only rule.

The stadium is a 25 minute walk south of the city centre, and with me being “Billy no mates” on this trip (as they didn’t have enough caps) I headed down early doors to collect my ticket. Rumours had been circulating that tickets had been selling on the black market for over £100 – meaning the likelihood of a 50% + England showing in the crowd was going to be high….What was even funnier though was the lengths some England Fans were going to to try and convince the FA that they had a genuine claim to a ticket….”My mate is stuck in a taxi – he said for me to pick it up”…..”It is me – I changed my name by deed poll”…”My mate has amnesia”…and so on – it was obviously a concern for the FA who had heavies on the gates as well as the unusual measure of having our membership photos on the ticket envelopes.

As I have described before, dear readers, the stadium is a small but impressive arena. England has been allocated the only open end, and 5 rows of temporary seating meant that I had an excellent seat just behind the goal…..Unfortunately the lack of a roof, and the small following from England’s most loyal meant one thing – a shit atmosphere. The evidence of the flags around the ground showed the ingenuity (is that a word?) of the England fans in obtaining tickets – but the cries from the home fans of “Emile Heskey” or so it sounded were wide of the mark – unless they thought he had dieted, and shrunk by 6 inches to become Ledley King!!!!

The match was dull…Beckham again proved to be McLaren’s saviour with 2 assists, although all three goals in the 3-0 win would have been preventable in the Premiership. The defeat meant that Estonia had lost all 7 game sto date and were still to score a goal – I am sure the meeting versus Andorra is well anticipated!

After the game the fans streamed northwards back to the city centre in fading sunlight – at 11.30pm!!! With so many bars, and so many pretty women for many the night would be long….unfortunately for me the night was all too short as I forfeited my right to sleep to get a flight back to Copenhagen to be at my desk for 8am….Still, life can never be perfect!!!