By Jonathan Lewis | 10th JUN 2020
With the restart of the 2019-20 English Premier League next week, we take a moment to consider how valuable are match-going football fans to clubs fighting for survival and those fighting for the top European spots.
In a world that seemed to exist a lifetime ago football fans could come and cheer for their team home and away without any restrictions, however this isn’t the status quo as the EPL look set to complete the 2019-20 football season, with Liverpool FC likely to be crowned champions albeit in front of cameras with not a single fan in sight.
Our friends at Betway spoke with former West Ham captain Alvin Martin about what it might feel like to play in front of an empty stadium, he says: “To go from playing in a full stadium to playing behind closed doors is eerie. “The atmosphere that you’re reliant on isn’t there and you can’t feed off the energy of the crowd.”
Martin has experienced playing in an empty stadium before, following West Ham United’s fan trouble in the first leg of their European Cup Winners’ Cup against Castilla, who beat them 3-1 at the famous Bernabeu. West Ham were ordered to play in front of no fans for the return leg at the Boleyn Ground by UEFA, a game which the Hammers won 5-1 and 6-4 on aggregate to progress to the next round.
“You could hear every word that was being said,” says Martin. “In fact, we even got a knock on the dressing room door during our half-time team talk with John Lyall. It was one of the directors who had been sent down to ask if we could keep the industrial language to a minimum.”
Betway complied the stats below for the 2018/19 season, with the average attendance at a Premier League game standing at 38,168, with more than 14.5m football fans going to games overall, this meant that a total figure of £677m was brought in by fans on a matchday.
The £677m generated by matchday income in the Premier League in 2018/19 represents 13 per cent of the overall turnover for all 20 clubs.
Apart from the obvious financial implications on the Premier League teams, let us not underestimate the ability of fans to push their teams, with players often remarking on how they give an extra effort when their fans are right behind them. “Those big atmospheres help give you an extra five or 10 per cent that you can’t replicate in training,” says Martin.
“They make you nervous, which I think is a very healthy thing for a sportsperson. When you’re nervous, that’s when you perform your best. If you go in for a tackle and there’s a crowd roaring for you and willing you to win it, I think inevitably it puts a little bit more onto you.”
“Similarly, when the crowd produce that enormous roar when a goal goes in, it gives you a lift.”
The integral relationship between football and fans is something that is not lost on Martin either. “If you think about it, the game would not have been around for hundreds of years if people didn’t love to go to matches,” he says. The community that is created and the people that are so passionately attached to their clubs wouldn’t exist. That is the power that a crowd can have.”
Betway also spoke with football finance expert Kieran Maguire, who argues that we shouldn’t underestimate the loss of football fans to the game for the remainder of the season, he says: “if you talk to anybody – it doesn’t matter the nature of their business – if you’re getting these regular streams of revenue, then you would be foolhardy to throw any of those away.”
“Clubs have got such high fixed costs and they might have to think of ways they can cut back. The return to some form of live action is essential. I’m not trying to be sensationalist.”
To really appreciate how valuable football-going fans are to their clubs you have to acknowledge the history and sense of community a football club shares with its fans, and Martin adds: “if you think about it, the game would not have been around for hundreds of years if people didn’t love to go to matches, the community that is created and the people that are so passionately attached to their clubs wouldn’t exist. That is the power that a crowd can have.”
Jonathan Lewis is an MFF Sports Writer