The Scratching Shed welcomes Colin, a regular commentator on the site, whose first article looks at Leeds United’s falling attendances. 

Things aren’t all white at Leeds United. Figures suggest that the Yorkshire club’s fans are deserting a club renowned for its loyal support at an alarming and unsustainable rate.

Last season, Leeds United had the highest attendances of any team in the English Football League. The Championship team had an average attendance of 27,299. To put that number in its true perspective – higher than 8 Premier League clubs.

This season, things seem a little different. Against Bristol City in September, there were 22,655 fans at Elland Road. Last season, at the same fixture at a similar time of year, November, the attendance was 27,567, a drop of just under 5,000 fans.

At the last Leeds United home match against Portsmouth, there were 22,476 fans. Last season, there were 31,556. That match was over the lucrative Christmas break and you expect a higher attendance when you take into account the timing. However, it is still important to note that 9,000 less fans have turned up this time around against one of the ‘bigger’ teams in the league. This year, there are no lucrative Christmas ties. Leeds United will play their Christmas games away from home. The Football League Fixture Generator (sponsored by NPower) has been especially Scrooge-like to Leeds United. And that makes the already dispirited accountant at Elland Road, an even more frustrated Bob Cratchit figure. It’s going to be a cold winter in Leeds and he’s not getting any presents.

So why the glum faced accountant? Surely the Manchester United game helped to fill the coffers? It must have been a sell-out? Well, hmmm, no. It wasn’t. Last season, in Leeds United’s ‘big’ test against Arsenal, the attendance was a comfortable 38,000, and it could have been more. The club expected the same result through the turnstiles this time around. But when the Board looked out of the windows expecting to see queues, no-one was there.

The club expected huge demand and encouraged fans to guarantee tickets with a first come, first served offer allowing a guaranteed seat if you attended the previous 2 home games. In addition, it was a ticket for the season ticket holder only, no friends allowed. Then the friends were allowed. Then there were special ‘exclusive’ offers for the Executive boxes and Prawn Sandwich brigade. No-one was hungry.

After much encouragement, only 31,000 fans turned up for a game against ‘The Enemy’ – the Premier League victors and Champions League finalists. The club expected to be inundated with ticket requests. That didn’t happen. Many fans already disgruntled with paying Top 6 Premier League season ticket prices to watch a mid-table Championship team, rightly baulked at the option to be ‘allowed’ to take their own seat for a further £36. The tide has turned and the fans are walking away with their cash in their pockets.

The attendances at Leeds United have dropped by 14%. And that number is a realistic but potentially optimistic one based on the comparable timings of the Bristol City match versus last season. If you took the current average attendance versus last season, or the attendance against Manchester United versus Arsenal last season, or the Portsmouth example, then the club are facing much closer to a 20% figure.

They say a picture paints a thousand words, and images of Elland Road this season show vast spaces of empty seats. If alarm bells are not already ringing in the Leeds United offices, then they should be.

Perhaps someone forgot to change the batteries?

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Picture courtesy of MAMF taken at Leeds United v Middlesbrough (13/08/2011)