OK, so let’s help Niall get the crowds flocking back



Niall Quinn made plenty of sensible points in his lament to the Sunderland Echo about the disappointing size of attendances at the Stadium of Light.

The season’s average so far is 38,342 which is 2,000 down on last season even though the quality of football is much higher, the squad stronger and hope at its highest level for 10 years.

No matter that most Premier clubs would dearly love to attract such numbers to their own, mostly inferior stadiums. It is still far too low for Sunderland AFC, especially given the advances that have been made and the money that has been invested.

“I thought if we were in the top half of the Premier League, we would be getting crowds well into the 40,000s, but the reality is we are in the mid-30s,” Niall told the Echo.

“The plan was always to improve and while we are doing that on the pitch, off the pitch the lifeblood of the club is just starting to get to a worrying area. I’m not saying we are perfect, but I always thought I could rely on the support of a massive crowd.”

He pointed out to those – friends included – who found it easier to go to the pub and have a few drinks with their mates and walk home afterwards: “These games are shown illegally.”

Well, that is an issue for the football authorities, and forces of law, to deal with. If the Football Data Co, and SAFC, can be so quick to come down hard on piddling little fansites and fanzines that dare show a club badge, why can’t they tackle real problems as heartily?

The contrasting attitudes actually show a little of what is wrong with the modern game: less than others but still to some extent, Sunderland sometimes shows the ugly face of corporate football, a tendency to take ordinary supporters for granted.

What more could the club be doing to make the matchday experience attractive to the people who currently stay away? Let Salut! Sunderland get the ball rolling:

* improve catering facilities. Not the Premier’s worst by a long chalk, but could be a lot better

* make it possible to visit the club shop without encountering such long queues that you fear you can only complete a purchase if you’re prepared to miss the first 10 minutes of the game

* stand up and be counted in opposing ludicrous kickoff times – home and away. Think, in other words, of the fans who have to travel to such games. There is no reason why TV schedules should require games to start at 1245 and every reason why such a start should cut 3,000 or more off the expected gate

* make it clear that never again will the football club take action against supporters suspected of misconduct but against whom nothing has yet been proved (by all means throw the book at them once that hurdle has been cleared)

Perhaps Salut! Sunderland readers can make a few more suggestions on how Niall Quinn can succeed in drawing more people back to the stadium in what he accepts are economically challenging times.


Monsieur Salut

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Salut! Sunderland is written, illustrated and edited by - and principally for - supporters of Sunderland AFC. The site aims to be sufficiently literate and entertaining to appeal to people who do not follow SAFC but enjoy good football writing.

25 Responses to “OK, so let’s help Niall get the crowds flocking back” Subscribe

  1. Jeremy December 23, 2010 at 6:28 pm #

    I can understand Niall’s frustration to some degree but he needs to consider the size of the crowds now to the last days at Roker when he first arrived as a player back in the mid 1990s. Admittedly we had an ever shrinking capacity to deal with but the attendances we get are pretty good compared to the majority of clubs in the country. Times are hard and there are other necessities in life other than football to spend money on. It’s never been more expensive to watch live games and although the prices at the SOL are relatively low compared to some other clubs the reality is that Sunderland has more unemployment and lower wages than many other areas. The attendances are very good when these factors are taken into account. Niall has always had a fantastic connection with the fans but needs to appreciate the economic reality in front of him. The football is good and we have come a long way over the last few years. I can understand the concern that he has about not filling the ground week in week out but these things will pass in time.

    One thing I wish the club would do is to take some serious steps to relocate visting supporters so that we can get rid of all those empty seats behind the goal which creates the impression that the ground is about a quarter full. It doesn’t create the right impression as it looks bad and can’t do anything to improve the atmosphere either. Something needs to be done, especially when the paltry away support from the likes of Bolton adds to the expanse of red empty seats.

  2. MacM December 23, 2010 at 7:06 pm #

    Good points Jeremy. Besides the economic reality at the moment, I do think the recent extreme weather has had an impact on attendances, when you consider that SAFC catchement area stretches from North Yorks to the Scottish borders and across to the Wear / Tees valley and Pennines. I suspect many fans from the extreme parts of this area have been reluctant to risk traveling. That’s besides the fact its been Baltic!

    I also agree with re-locating the visiting fans. I would suggest the south end of the Premier Concourse and then relocating those SAFC ‘singing’ hardcore fans who currently occupy the lower areas of the west stand into the South stand, where the visitors are currently housed.

  3. Jeremy December 23, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    Absolutely MacM. I think you are dead right. For me the relatively poor atmosphere has largely resulted from the lack of bodies right behind the goal (and which I still tend to think of as the “Roker End.”

    The noise needs to be generated right down there behind the goal. I can see no reason for keeping it things the way they are. Certainly the recent bad weather will have had some impact. If people can get there from far flung corners of the north, there’s probably been some uncertainty about getting back. Traditionall the worst attendance of the season (in the olden days) was always on the weekend before Christmas (ie last weekend). I seem to have some recollection of the club doing something to try and raise the gate when we were at Roker but can’t be sure.

  4. JC_Black_Cat December 23, 2010 at 7:52 pm #

    Agree with comments and I am a season travel card holder and travel 280 miles each way for a home game. One point I agree with is kick-off times… lets get back to 3pm Saturday kick-offs. Last weeks 12.45pm ko was ridiculous so Niall needs to think about this before these kinds of statements… what’s more important, Sky TV or having a full house? Also, the catering and entertainment before, ht and after game are sub-standard. The club do much more to attract fans and families to the club.

  5. John Pressling December 23, 2010 at 7:58 pm #

    Lads, Niall Quinn has done more for this club than I can remember in my life time. We are on the verge of greatness. His message is clear, we back him and the board, with numbers or his dream will die.Remember Sheff Utd at home? Semi final of the play offs. You couldn’t hear yourself think, the atmosphere was amazing. Lets get our mates off their arses, out of the pubs and into the ground. Yes the club shop could be bigger, yes the catering could be better. Is that a reason not to back Quinny and the team. He must be worried, he wouldn’t go public if he wasn’t. Lets roar them into Europe, and show Quinny we still have faith.

  6. Rob December 23, 2010 at 8:52 pm #

    Great point about away fans, they could not be in a worse place. But you are never gonna change the kick off times. If you want the Sky money you gotta take the ko times.

    Free / discounted travel is asociation with the club would help a la mag scheme.

    Merry Chtistmas . . . . Rob in Bromley

  7. Darren December 23, 2010 at 9:09 pm #

    Agree totally about away fans somethimg has to be done about that, look at the mags where they put away fans couldnt get worse seats. why not put them in the north stand upper?? As for the low crowds do you blame people for spending there money on a few pints in a warm pub instead of being freezing over at the SOL its not exactly entertaining football. Unless the police put a stop to it im afraid the crowds will stay low.

    P.S I am a season ticket holder who also attends away matches

  8. matty December 23, 2010 at 9:15 pm #

    Niall Quinn seemed to think the gate for the Bolton game was a low one. But bear in mind:-

    1 the game was at 1.45 (an inconvenient time for many – especially those travelling)

    2 it was the last Saturday before Christmas (traditionally a time for low attendance)

    3 we were playing Bolton (nuff said)

    4 it was freezing cold

    5 the game was on telly

    6 a shortage of away supporters (understandable with Bolton, especially in view of the deep snow in the NW)

    Bearing in mind these facts, plus the economic ones mentioned by Jeremy, the attendance of 35,101 could be seen as a good one. The equivalent game last year (against Aston Villa) had an attendance of 34,821

  9. Jeremy December 23, 2010 at 9:22 pm #

    To be honest I’ve never understood what the fuss is about with catering. I couldn’t tell you the last time that I bought food inside a football ground anyway, either at the SOL or elsewhere. It’s invariably poor to greater or lesser extremes. Why not eat before you get there or on the way home? Is this a valid reason not to go to a football match? Of course not. I’ve never met anyone who would make a concrete statement to that effect. In fact has anyone ever heard anyone said “I’d have gone on Satrurday but the cheese pasties were rotten the week before, so I’m stopping in the house?” Of course not, because it’s a nonsense. You don’t go to football matches to eat or for the half time entertainment. Let’s not confuse the issues.

    Sky money dominates kick off times. If it was decreed that a home game should kick off at 3.22am on a Thursday morning then that’s what would happen. You would think that getting 38,000 for a home game was something to be ashamed of! Times have changed, and apart from the obvious cost factor the experience of being the match is incomparable with watching it on the TV. I’m not sure that the people watching in the pubs on illegal satellite streams are the same people who once would have been at the game anyway. It’s a bit like the argument in the old days of Napster’ ie “how can it be stealing if you wouldn’t have bought it anyway?”

    There are thousands of new supporters who turn up at the SOL these days. Personally I’ve never understood exactly where this new breed came from. I remember several years ago sitting there in disgust at HT when John McPhail came out to do the HT draw. Quite unashamedly several “supporters” sitting close to me came out with remarks like ‘Whoooooo?” “John McPhail? Who the hell’s he?” I didn’t bother informing them that this was the centre half who scored 15 goals for us in the 1987/8 season. I have nothing in common with these people who view football in the same way as IKEA. Maybe they only go there for the meatballs. The tradiitional supporter has nothing in common with this type of supporter and I suspect that the apparent decline in numbers has been drawn from this particular stata of support. The transient and fashionable attractions of the new ground have given way to some other attraction equally ephemeral in their shallow lives. They must have retreated to suburbia to listen to their old Kraftwerk and Happy Mondays albums. They aren’t proper supporters, the club doesn’t need them and they didn’t contribute to the atmoshpere anyway. There’s my dimesworth lads.

    It’s my 50th birthday today and I’m going to what’s reportedly a nice steakhouse with my wife. I just hope they’ve got a decent match on in there.

  10. JC_Black_Cat December 23, 2010 at 9:23 pm #

    The game ko was 12.45, check your facts:
    http://www.safc.com/page/FixturesandResults/0,,10281~2088169~2010,00.html?

  11. Bill Taylor December 23, 2010 at 10:15 pm #

    50, Jeremy? You’re still a bairn! Have a great one!

  12. salutsunderland December 23, 2010 at 11:31 pm #

    Blimey Jeremy you kept that quiet. I’d have had a headline “Bravo Jeremy: 50 n.o.” just to see how many hits it would have got.
    But yes, you’re right about catering not really mattering. I just threw it into the pot, so to speak.

    Happy birthday. Hope you had a bloody good steak with the emphasis on bloody.

  13. malcolm December 24, 2010 at 12:26 am #

    Well for what it’s worth, whilst I see where Quinny is coming from I’m afraid those in charge of Premier League Clubs put the supporters wishes way down their list of priorities. As we know Sir Niall is a fan’s chairman so I’m not talking of him per se – rather owners and employees who see clubs in business terms, fans as customers and the generation of income, profit and capital gain as the driving force. And we the fans are starting to see through that. Let me give you a few examples.

    As has been said – kick off times. Not every one who follows the team lives close to the ground. JC Black Cat has a 280 mile trip there and back. In my case it’s 160 each way – I leave at 9.00 get back home at 9.00 pm when KO is 3.00pm. There are loads of instances of stupid times because of the telly. Southampton away – Bank Holiday Monday Evening. West Ham at home in the cup – lunchtime for the travelling Hammers. Ipswich away – Saturday evening. But what is worse is changing dates and times at short notice. Supporters who travel long distances have to organise their travel well in advance. I know a lass in East Anglia who booked a flight from Stansted to Newcastle for a match and then the date was changed. Wasted ticket – never got to the game.

    Does the club really value the fans? Like most branches we got a visit from Niall and inspiring it was too. We were promised a deal on tickets for a game to encourage members to get up to the SOL. It never transpired. Requests to the club for raffle prizes, speakers etc. fall on deaf ears and are rarely answered or we are told we can buy merchandise.

    We are questioned for our loyalty but the club, like it or not, sees itself in a market terms but whilst we might swap Burger King for KFC or Tesco for Morrisons we aren’t going to shop around the Premier League. If we question the value for money we get it’s do we go or not?

    In a couple of his match reports this season Sixer has raised this question and you’ll struggle to find a more dedicated supporter. Each home game I am committed to spending a minimum of £60 with ticket, travel and food – and that’s before I have a pint. When the entertainment on offer is not up to scratch I admit I think “I could have been to four or five music concerts for that, or the theatre, or the pictures or had 4 nights in the pub.” I know several fans of Premier League clubs who have given up there season tickets and started going to non-league football. Not only is it cheaper but it is more in keeping with why fans of my generation started going to football in the first place. And I haven’t even mentioned the ridiculous salaries.

  14. Wilko December 24, 2010 at 1:35 am #

    Stick the away fans in a remote corner of the upper north stand like most other premier league clubs do these days. It’s an embarrassment seeing blocks of empty seats behind the goal in the away end when our own fans could fill these seats.

  15. malcolm December 24, 2010 at 9:59 am #

    Re moving the away fans and the empty seats behind the goal. I made this point years ago to Lesley Callaghan. The reply was that under the South Stand there are a number of movable barriers which segregate the concourse for different numbers of away fans. Away clubs are guaranteed a minimum percentage of the ground’s capacity if they want them for cup matches. There is one barrier hardly ever used in the South East corner. Allocating them the corner of the West Stand would mean keeping most of the West Stand lower tier Season card free up to the half way line – or not allowing SC holders their regular seat for FA Cup ties. My preferred option would be to have them in the North Stand Upper – but that would upset Black Cat Bar ticket holders and cause problems with entrances to the bar itself.

    It seems to me that this problem should have been anticipated at the design stage. My least favourite new away ground for visiting fans is The Walkers Stadium where, on a bright day, you end up looking straight into the sun.

  16. rob December 24, 2010 at 10:42 am #

    There is a lot of crap coming from the above posts the only one I can relate to is the comments about getting to the ground and supporting the club… we are not going to Michelin star restaurants here… this is football not master chief… Sunderland ticket prices are the lowest in the country… if you no someone with a season ticket or your son or daughter wants to go who is under the age bracket you can get a tickets for a pound a match…… get them in young plant the seed and you will have a Sunderland fan for life! Even half price season tickets are good value for money for adults…. I no its an extra expense with Christmas approaching but maybe if we want that extra Marquee signing this summer.. without the attendance will will not get it! FTM

  17. salutsunderland December 24, 2010 at 10:59 am #

    Rob: NQ has addressed the issue as a matter of concern to the club so it is entirely right that supporters should suggest where SAFC could raise their own game. The club gets loads of things right, but not everything. I’ve already agreed that catering is probably the least thing that matters: if people want cold yellow fizz instead of beer and to queue for ages for iffy food, that’s their choice. But the ideas above, eg on where away fans should go and – however powerless we may be in the face of Murdoch – making some sort of stand on the more outrageous kickoff times, are perfectly valid, not “a lot of crap”.

  18. rob December 24, 2010 at 11:23 am #

    SALUTSUNDERLAND.. I said alot of crap not all crap 🙂

  19. Dave December 24, 2010 at 11:39 am #

    I think John Presslings comment is spot on, the club is a business and to achieve Niall Quinns ambition for the club (which we all want too!) he is merely saying if the crowds stay at the level they are now for a prolonged period the investments will have to be within the means of the club! that’s no different to any other business.
    We have seen time and time again clubs just spending beyond their means to succeed and come crashing down, (Portsmouth springs to mind). I’m sure that’s not what the supporters want and Mr Quinn is correct to raise the issue, he is not saying fill the stadium or else, he is saying be aware we have to operate within our means. I’m so grateful we have this man as our chairman who cares about the club and the supporters.

  20. Tom Lynn December 24, 2010 at 2:26 pm #

    Niall Quinn is entitled to go on a drum beating mission to increase Sunderland’s support as the club really has shown drive, ambition and professionalism in recent times that deserves the best attendances we can muster at the SoL.
    He needs to be careful with his wording, however, as his recent clarion call attracted negative press along the lines of ‘Quinn threatens no more spending if poor crowds don’t improve’ etc..
    In relation to their lack of success that has seen one meaningful trophy won since 1937, in respect of a ridiculous number of relegations in the post-war era and allied to those shameful 15 and 19 point seasons and the failure to invest whilst the going was good circa 1999-2002, no club in world football could better the loyalty of our fan base. Newcastle, for example, had a long waiting list not long ago but have had instances of 11,000-plus unsold seats this season [many of their fans currently have 3 year Keegan inspired season tickets] and whatever their recent failings their supporters still have fresh memories of heady European trips to Barca, Milan and Rotterdam and Premiership title fights and FA Cup final appearances. During most of those times we were at Barnsley, Middlesbrough and Rotherham.
    Quinny also said that the clubs above us attract bigger crowds which was ill thought out. Man United and Chelsea have won silverware galore, Arsenal are consistent trophy hunters and Man City have bought a fantasy league side. Over time our support can increase healthily if we progress as we have done in recent times. We already have a better average than the likes of Villa, Everton, Spurs etc..which is an achievement.
    There is little doubt as well that illegal broadcasting of Premiership games does not help and the sooner that this is banned the better as it threatens the culture and soul of our game. Quinny should start by asking why some of his corporate boxholders at the SoL who own bars and clubs like Gatsby’s, Privilege, the Glass Spider and the Queen Vic and others blatantly advertise live home and away SAFC games every week in the local press and via posters etc on their walls.

  21. Martin December 24, 2010 at 4:46 pm #

    I think we should stop micro-analysing everything Niall says. When he wears his heart on his sleeve and expresses his legitimate concerns we are better served to pay attention, and do what we can to get behind him. It doesn’t matter how he expresses himself Tom, the press are always going to go for the most controversial headline. John pressling has my vote for the best post – it;s like a shining beacon above most others! When I went to Roker Park every home game in the 70’s/80’s times were a lot harder, but the ground was full of loud, motivated Mackems. My current geography dictates that I can’t be there, but I’d give my right nut and a tin of carrots to be there watching the best team we’ve ever had. I can’t believe attendances are so poor. Niall’s right – as always. He’s keeping his end of the bargain and he’s being betrayed by the people he’s serving so splendidly. We can’t profess to have some of the best fans in the world when there’s so many empty seats and the team is doing so well. You can’t harp back to the bad old days as an excuse for poor attendances!!! As for kick off times, who cares?? I would go see the lads at midnight!! Catering!!!! I used to eat meat pies at the Fulwell end that were packed full of lips, arseoles, teeth and tails. Washed down with a paper cup full of disolved oxo disguised as hot Bovril. When I come home the only way I can pursuade my Canadian Missus to watch a game is by bribing her with a pulled pork bap purchased from one of the stadium vendors!! You lot should have petitioned Keano to deal with the catering issue, and maybe we’d have prawn sandwiches on the menu!! FACT – our away support is the best in the world. FACT – our home support does not reflect the massive improvements on and off the pitch. We need to stop talking rubbish and support the man who has dedicated his entire life to giving us a club and a team we can be proud of for one of the first times in recent history. The message should be loud and clear – get back to the stadium and support your team – or suffer the consequences!!

  22. Tom Lynn December 24, 2010 at 6:05 pm #

    Martin, Roker was not always full of loud, motivated Mackems in the 70’s and 80’s, take those rose tinted specs off and look at the stats for proof. I acknowledge Niall has every right to ask for increased attendances but they will come if the current regime continues to build the club. “I can’t believe attendances are so poor”-what planet are you living on? Your piece is passionate but so misguided, and with due respect you no longer attend because of where you live. That is your life choice but in effect if you rarely go, then you are infact a part of the problem. Many Sunderland fans could never choose to live a life that did not include watching their team on a reasonably regular basis. SAFC have great support in respect of where we have [or have not] been in the last 50 years and the 35,000 v Bolton was for our third consecutive live TV game, played at 12.45 during the worst UK weather for three decades.

  23. Martin December 24, 2010 at 7:02 pm #

    Tom – your response is a tad predictable. I’m on earth by the way.

    We got over 40,000 regularly in the Championship, with a team nowhere near as entertaining. We all have to buy into what Niall is trying to do. And for your information, never a week goes by that I don’t long to be there. I’m like a dog without a tail! It wasn’t by choice that I am on the west coast of Canada – it was because of work. I have been to hundreds of games and would continue to do so if I was in the UK. I continue to contribute to the club more than you will ever know about, and if circumstances allow, I will be back supporting home and away.

    And look – if it’s cold, put a coat on. If you don’t like the food, don’t buy it, or take your own. If it’s too early for you , stay at home and finish your knitting. And for the record, I would say that if I was attending every week.

    The club is being being built and established NOW. It needs supporting NOW. The current regime need healthy attendances NOW. They don’t need to hear “they’ll come if you continue to build”. It’s a little condescending of you to promise better gates IF certain criteria are met!! I’m sure Niall would appreciate your comments, but don’t expect a Christmas card!!

    They get better gates than us down the road, and they have a clown in charge!! Do you get what I’m saying? I don’t give a rats bum how many thumbs down I get!!

    Our support has been amazing in my lifetime, but it was my perception that once we had a top six team, we would get maximum gates. That’s how I interpreted our passionate support. And the gates have been a little disappointing, to say the least. But listen – you have your opinion and I have mine. Seeing all those empty seats makes me feel gutted for Niall Quinn. Frankly he deserves better, and I can understand his despair. He’s keeping his part of the bargain and from the outset he has been the perfect talisman for the club. He’s followed through and kept his promises, but he needs more support – clearly!!!

    So – instead of making excuses, if you care about the club and it’s progess and development, try to understand the magnitude of this issue, and make the right noises. We should be clearing 40,000 every home game, but if anything crowds are dwindling and that my friends DOES NOT bode well for the future. What a shame it would be to be so close to finally cracking it, only to have our hopes and aspirations shattered by fickle support.

    Our support has to reflect the effort and investment of our “current regime”. Period.

    Merry Christmas to all Salut readers, and to all Sunderland fans everywhere in the world!

  24. Jeremy December 24, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    Cheers lads. The 22 oz Porterhouse was great, and my missus is finishing off her lobster tail even as we speak. They had a match on the telly but it was crap!

    Happy Christmas to all Mackems!

  25. JC_Black_Cat December 24, 2010 at 7:48 pm #

    Happy Christmas to all!

    At least we’re debating attendances and not how poor the team is! How times have changed…

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