We have all heard that phrase – “football without fans is nothing.”
And it got me thinking: should Preston North End be doing more for its fans?
I decided to go through the numbers, figure out any patterns and analyse where the club are going wrong.
After a few calculations and the construction of relatively simple graph, I believe there is a lot we can learn from the home attendance numbers in terms of patterns and possible marketing strategies for the next campaign.
The Precise Numbers
Before we delve a little deeper, here are the number of fans who attended each home game (excluding away fans):
QPR (4th August 2018)
12,354: A relatively decent opening day crowd against middling opposition. In fact this was our sixth highest home gate of the season. People on a summer high after one of the better pre-seasons of recent years.
Stoke (18th August 2018)
10,890: A significantly reduced home gate after a bumper opening day crowd. People still on their summer holidays? An away defeat at Swansea can’t have helped either.
Bolton (1st Septemer 2018)
12,187: Normally you’d expect more for a Lancashire derby, but the run of three successive 2-0 defeats put a few of the punters off.
Reading (15th September 2018)
10,561: 1,626 less home fans came to Reading compared to Bolton. It has to be said Reading are not attractive opposition, but clearly people were not impressed by the surrendering of a two goal lead and dismissal of Ben Pearson after the full time whistle a week prior.
West Bromwich Albion (29th September 2018)
10,907: A slight improvement upon Reading, but without a win since the start of the season and flirting with the possibility of relegation, Preston were in a dire place. This gate, then, is no surprise.
Wigan (6th October 2018)
11,449: A turning point in the season came four days before, as PNE came from behind to earn a point in a six goal thriller at Villa Park – which included a last second penalty save from Chris Maxwell and a cabbage on the pitch. This was our first point on the road all season and with the feel good factor back, perhaps more could have been expected to turn up to see our 4-0 rout of newly-promoted Wigan.
Brentford (24th October 2018)
10,614: We were on our first successive run of games without defeat all season going into this Tuesday night match against the free-flowing Bees. Hoping to build for a promotion push, Preston edged this one winning 4-3, despite the desperate attempts of Brentford. Always a lesser home gate in mid-week.
Rotherham (27th October 2018)
11,080: A Saturday afternoon game played on the back of a thrilling mid-week win. This home gate was perhaps slightly more than expected. However, PNE could only muster up a solitary point in another disappointing game.
Blackburn (24th November 2018)
14,378: No surprises here that this was our biggest home crowd of the season, and by some margin. An extra 3,298 came down to Deepdale for this local derby and enjoyed a vintage North End win: 4-1 it finished. Unfortunately this bumper crowd was a mere anomaly and surprisingly, we registered our lowest home gate of the season just three days later…
Middlesbrough (27th November 2018)
10,019: With the mid-week match against Boro being one of two home matches in the run up to Christmas, it is understandable that many choose to opt out of the late-November/early-December fixtures. But to see such a marked drop of 4,359 home fans is quite concerning, especially off the back of a run which saw us take 11 points out of a possible 15.
Millwall (15th December 2018)
10,487: After that proper shithousing away in deepest, darkest Nottingham, this was a bit of a comedown. Millwall aren’t the most attractive proposition and the rain (pitiful excuse, I know) will certainly have put a few of the casual punters off. The atmosphere was poor and football not much better.
Hull (Boxing Day)
13,342: They say Christmas brings the good out of people and this was evident against Hull. A bumper Boxing Day crowd came out for this one – the third highest home gate of the season, in fact.
Aston Villa (29th December 2018)
13,497: The last game of the calendar year was marked with another bumper festive crowd. With people looking ahead to the New Year, plenty came along to see us face off with one of England’s best supported clubs.
Swansea (12th January 2019)
11,034: Back down to reality as just over 11,000 hardy souls came out to watch a “captivating” 1-1 draw against South Wales’ finest.
Derby (1st February 2019)
11,161: After a couple of stunning away wins, more could have been expected to turn up for Derby at home. Unfortunately Sky Sports were in town, and you know what that means… Armchair or pub.
Norwich (13th February 2019)
10,462: Our second lowest home crowd of the season. Now this was a shock. But what doesn’t shock me is why. With all the mid-week Championship games available to watch on the red button feature, football is simply being transformed into a TV show. Despite being unbeaten in five league games and playing top of the league Norwich, the pull of Preston simply isn’t strong enough.
Nottingham Forest (16th February 2019)
11,991: People were starting to believe. After the 3-1 rout of Norwich just four days prior, an extra 1,529 came to Deepdale. Unfortunately, the result let them down.
Bristol City (2nd March 2019)
11,813: Quite low considering we were well and truly on the march. At this stage in the season when you’re pushing for the big time, you need at least 15,000 on – but clearly there need to be more incentives put in place.
Birmingham (16th March 2019)
11,953: After a couple of “smash and grab” away victories, I am really not sure how this crowd was so low. Extremely underwhelming. Alex Neil admitted afterwards that he expected better from the city of Preston.
Sheffield United (6th April 2019)
12,762: Slight improvement on a day of glorious sunshine and golden opportunity. Still not enough, but with many fans questioning the club’s lack of marketing strategy and inability to connect with the fans, a big chance was missed by Preston North End to pull in a greater number of supporters.
Leeds United (9th April 2019)
12,683: This one was pretty much do-or-die. And Preston, in typical Preston fashion, bottled it. I actually thought the atmosphere was quite good. I mean it certainly helps when the opposition travel in numbers, but still, people got behind the lads.
Ipswich (19th April 2019)
12,117: With the season done and dusted (mathematically speaking) this one had a pre-season feel about it. Devoid of atmosphere against an already relegated opposition, Preston fans came out in the blazing sunshine to watch the Whites tear apart a pitiful Ipswich team.
Sheffield Wednesday (27th April 2019)
11,634: And just like that the season and our home support had withered away.
What Must be Done
Realistically, what can actually be done to get more home fans down to Deepdale? Ticket deals? A fanzone? A dedicated singing section? New pies? Local ale? The options are endless.
Here were some of your suggestions:
Singing section and/or safe standing – definitely need a dedicated area that creates a good atmosphere— JFishh 🤙🏻 (@_JFishh) May 30, 2019
I dunno but giving out clapping sticks isn’t the answer 😎😎😎 @pnefc— 𝙋𝙞𝙡𝙠𝙨 (@pilks1990) May 30, 2019
A singing section, better and more varied food (veggie, vegan), half time ent e.g. Millwalls primary school relay— Gary Lambert (@2410PNE) May 30, 2019
Fanzone— Tom Elliott (@tommyelly8010) May 30, 2019
Singing section , worked at Derby and they’ve completely outsung us last two times I’ve been there and we’re pretty loud away— Josh Knowles (@JoshKnowles2002) May 30, 2019
Full town end as safe standing only— Turner Lad (@LeighTurbo80) May 30, 2019
Ticket deals ( certain games) local ale and beer & more choices of food in Finneys Bar, fan zone and other things which people have said in past plus treat home fans same as away fans do— Tom (@Tom_H1992) May 30, 2019
This season the overwhelming feeling shared between the club and fans seems to have been one of apathy. When we asked for a fanzone we were told it was not feasible due to “structural issues” and when we asked for a ticket deal during our scintillating run of form, we were given clappers. Clappers which were used as paper planes.
What we need is dialogue between club and fans. More fan inclusion in the decisions that affect us.
Clearly a good run of form will attract only a handful of fans. Therefore an effective way to boost the crowd would be to introduce a one off ticket deal. Four games for the price of three or something of that ilk. But at the same time, this is not a sustainable solution. Price isn’t always the greatest barrier to fans.
The only ticket initiative that I have witnessed recently is the ‘Deepdale Dozen’, a half season ticket which got you twelve games for the price of ten last season. When the initiative was launched in 2014, it got you twelve games for the price of nine. These incremental price increases do make a difference and put people off.
A long-term solution to get Deepdale buzzing again would simply be to have more around the ground. A fanzone, similar to the one at West Brom, would attract many facets of the fanbase. There could be live music, craft ales, street food and activities for families. This would make the occasion of going to Deepdale a much more attractive proposition for the casual punter.
A dedicated singing section would be another cost-effective method of creating a better atmosphere. At Selhurst Park, home of Crystal Palace, a collective of around 180 fans form a section of ‘ultras’ known as the Holmesdale Fanatics. These fans took it upon themselves to energize Selhurst Park by forming in a corner of the ground with banners, plenty of colour and a non-stop drum beat. Naturally, this carnival atmosphere is contagious and fans who otherwise might just sit and clap politely, find themselves joining in with their vociferous ‘ultra’ counterparts.
Now, I am by no means saying that Preston North End should form a set of self-styled ultras, but a group of fans who want to crank up the atmosphere could and should be encouraged by the club to get together and gather in a less populated area of the stadium. Or perhaps in the upper echelons of the Town End, where the more vocal fans already stand/sit. Either way, this could be a combined club and fan initiative that gets Deepdale rocking.
Subtlety is Key
There is no need for a revolution. Sometimes evolution can be more effective. Subtle changes like new pies, craft beer and greater food selection can be attractive changes. When Ipswich travelled to Deepdale last season they were rewarded with a food and drink token, but why are such rewards limited solely to away fans? Why are the most loyal fans not being recognised and lauded for their continual support? Rewarding the home support is again a subtle way of recognising loyalty and encouraging fans to return.
Conversation is crucial. If the club are to take anything from last season, it should be that they need to listen to the fans and proactively seek solutions to supporter concerns. Rather than ducking questions about tickets deals, face them head on and admit that they are not financially viable. Mountains do not have to be moved, but steps should be taken to up the levels of engagement between club and fans. Embed from Getty Images