Solution needed for plummeting crowds

There were plenty of empty seats at Fratton Park for the clash with Barnsley recently
There were plenty of empty seats at Fratton Park for the clash with Barnsley recently
Zella had a fantastic day at Titchfield Haven and wonders what other local gems she's overlooked      Picture: Gary Taw

ZELLA COMPTON: Looking afresh at our beautiful spot in the world

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A smattering of Doncaster Rovers fans occupied a small section of the Milton End.

Next to them nearly all of the remaining seats in that part of the ground were covered up by a giant Pompey flag.

A brave effort, but there can be no disguising Fratton Park attendances have plummeted this season.

The famous old ground has already witnessed its lowest league crowd for more than a decade.

And only once in their seven home matches so far this season have Pompey attracted an attendance higher than 14,935.

Unquestionably, football is feeling the pinch from the current financial climate and the accompanying austerity measures.

Crowds are dipping on all levels, schemes are busily being put into place across the country to tempt the fans back.

Certainly, it’s a general malaise not exclusively restricted to Fratton Park.

Far from it, let’s make that abundantly clear.

But Pompey are still presently 3,657 down on the Championship average. That leaves them 17th on the list of average attendances in the division.

Revealingly, the likes of Coventry City, Burnley, Reading and Crystal Palace have all attracted more through their gates.

Peterborough, Doncaster, Barnsley and Millwall occupy some of the seven places below.

Not that any Pompey fan needs to be supplied such information to come to the conclusion crowds are down this season.

Anyone who has ventured to Fratton since August can testify that.

It is hard to ignore. It is there in front of all our eyes.

Many contributing factors can be put forwards as to the reason behind this current worrying trend.

Ticket pricing, the standard of football, the cost of living, apathy, they have all played their crucial part.

The result is average crowds of 13,623 so far this term.

That is 2,084 down on last term’s Fratton average of 15,707.

So where have those fans disappeared to and, more importantly, why?

It’s the million dollar question Pompey are working hard to solve, after all, it is in their interests to once again fill up the stadium.

Not that Convers Sports Initiatives can do anything to cure the majority of the legacy issues which still lead to problems.

There are supporters out there who have lost the desire to attend Fratton Park matches, at present.

For such fans, the passion and love for their football club still exists, that will never diminish over time, that’s for certain.

They will continue to monitor results, continue to care.

Out of sight definitely does not mean out of mind.

Yet they have had enough after years of ill-treatment by previous regimes. Their strength has been sapped and it won’t refuel in a hurry.

Not the fault of CSI – even if they do bear the consequence.

Such supporters’ trust needs to be restored and it’s not a matter which can be solved overnight. Time is required.

Of course, another sizeable legacy issue has been ticket pricing.

It was Balram Chainrai, Levi Kushnir and Co who back in March controversially hiked up the cost of watching football at Fratton Park.

David Lampitt and Lucius Peart had delivered their thoughts on the way to go for the 2011/12 campaign.

Except once such recommendations entered the boardroom, what emerged was an entirely different set of pricing.

Clearly the dash for cash was on before the club was sold off to CSI on June 1.

Peart was on holiday in America at the time the club statement was released, which bore his name.

Those far, far above in the hierarchy fixed the prices which continue to maintain a steel-like grip on the club long after their departures.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility to reduce such prices in the here and now, it is certainly within any football club’s power.

However, concerns over alienating a season ticket base of around 8,500 has meant there can be no price slashing.

Not for the current campaign anyway.

Instead, the club have come up with a raft of concession schemes aimed at attracting fans back.

There has been the FourTress Fratton family days, involving a family of four able to watch fixtures against Blackpool, Doncaster, Coventry or Hull for £44.

Then there has been Super Six, allowing an adult to pay £144 to secure six matches of their choice, regardless of the category.

In addition, last weekend saw the Fans Football Festival take place in the Fratton end car park, designed to bring more families to the game.

Undoubtedly the club are doing all they can to work around such legacy price issues and tempt fans back to the club.

Another factor in declining attendances has been the footballing fare served up by former boss Steve Cotterill.

Performances on the pitch invariably have a massive impact on attendances and a side struggling to gel and failing to create goalscoring opportunities does not make great viewing.

Certainly many would begrudge paying their hard-earned money if they weren’t actually going to be entertained.

It remains to be seen whether Cotterill’s departure and the appointment of a new man at the helm can bring a sizeable number of supporters back.

Despite all such influences, interestingly of their past 10 years at Championship/division one level, only once have Pompey finished higher than the league’s average attendance.

That was in the 2002/03 promotion-winning campaign when an average 18,934 came through the gates.

That was 3,497 above the league average of 15,437.

In the other nine campaigns the Blues have finished significantly lower than half-way in terms of attendances.

In 1996/97 Pompey’s average was 8,857. By the time Milan Mandaric arrived two years later it had reached 11,973.

As it stands, Fratton crowds have slumped, apathy exists and a solution needs to be found.

The worry is, it could take a very, very long time to find the answer to such current woes.