Wealdstone buck the trend of non-league attendances - but for how long?
There has been a lot of talk on the forums these past few weeks on respective attendance figures, particularly during our FA Trophy ties with Maidstone United and prior to that with AFC Hornchurch.
But the topic of attendances at non league level is a recurring point of discussion and general concern.
Why is it, for instance, that a club like Maidstone United, playing as they do in the Ryman Premier League (and newly promoted to boot) can currently attract an average league attendance of 1,843?
And why is it that the average non League attendance for Ryman Premier London based clubs is as low 263?
This is a subject that has cropped up time and again and we all know the stock reasons given: demographic changes over the last 40 years, the devaluation of semi-professional football versus professional football, the rise of the armchair Premier League fan.
Then there is the wall to wall television coverage generally and virtually zero coverage given to the non-league game in the national press other than the FA Cup as we would have seen somewhat patronisingly this past weekend. London based clubs have to compete with literally dozens of pro clubs as well as myriad non league sides – and all within a tight geographical radius, albeit with a massive population.
Locally at non-league level we have Hendon, Harrow Borough, Wealdstone and now Barnet who have muscled into the Harrow area, Rayners Lane FC cannot be forgotten and the list goes on if you cross the border into Hillingdon.
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There used to be a much wider coverage of clubs such as Wealdstone years ago in the old Evening News and Standard but these days clubs below League Two and possibly Conference status might as well not exist for all of the coverage they will receive. Ever seen a non league story in the Metro?
Wealdstone FC and Dulwich Hamlet FC are the only ‘London’ based clubs at Ryman level that have seemed to have bucked the trend with rising gates. Stones have a current average gate of 560, whilst Dulwich are now pulling in an average crowd of 570. To the casual football observer these still seem pitifully low but they are still more than double the average. Why is this?
Both Wealdstone and Dulwich - and Maidstone – it can be argued have a large potential latent support based on history and tradition that still appears to have some pulling power.
In Maidstone’s case it wasn’t that long ago that they were a Football League side but they have far less competition geographically than if they were based closer to the metropolis and other big clubs.
But this doesn’t appear to have helped Hendon for instance who also have a strong tradition in terms of past support. Where has it all gone? And can it ever be pulled back?
Maidstone have a very large proportion of new supporters as two or three seasons ago, before they moved to their own Gallagher Stadium with assistance from their local Council, they had a 200 fans turning up at various itinerant ground shares – similar to Wealdstone in some ways.
Dartford FC is another example similar to the Maidstone model that has bucked the down ward spiral. Critically again with Council support.
What is very clear is that a solid home base is absolutely vital – a proper home within which to build strong community ties and, just as importantly, a social base that can generate sustainable income.
Wealdstone have successfully built this up over the past few years at Ruislip but in order to maintain this progress-long term foundations must be secured or it could all be for nothing and that would be the greatest tragedy of all.