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.

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!!!