Neville Dalton is a journalist and a Portsmouth fan of more than 40 years.
The lowest home league crowd for 10 years – against Peterborough last week - is bound to rekindle the arguments that Pompey have priced themselves out of thousands of precious pounds through their charging strategy.
And certainly, the ever-receding attendances at Fratton Park this season suggest fans are either unwilling or unable to meet the cost of watching second-tier football.
I’ve offered my view on the reasons for this already this term.
I argued that the prices alone were not the reason for what was until the past couple of home games a slight fall in average attendances: that the grave economic situation was bound to have an enormous effect.
Of course, fans want to see a successful team, and there is no doubt that Pompey’s miserable showing so far this season has encouraged many supporters to stay away.
I’m sure many more people would have been willing to stump up the cash – even if they regard it as too high – if Pompey were achieving anything like the results of our promotion-winning season less than a decade ago.
But interestingly – and quite unusually - our style of play also appears to be a factor.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve increasingly put more emphasis on the quality of football Pompey have played than the results, enjoyable as promotion, top-10 Premier League finishes and FA Cup success are.
For that reason, a couple of halcyon years under Jim Smith stand alongside the best that Harry Redknapp had to offer in terms of personal enjoyment of Pompey’s seasons.
And it seems, judging by the content of fans’ message boards, that a growing number of people are protesting against Pompey’s current desperate style of football by staying away.
As I said previously, rather than cost, I believe a combination of these factors accounts for our diminishing attendances (not to mention a notable absence of away fans at the Blackpool and Peterborough games in particular).
The 12,102 crowd last Tuesday was – if I’ve got my stats right – the lowest for a Fratton league game since another Tuesday night – February 13, 2001, when 11,377 saw us lose 2-1 to Bolton Wanderers on a night that saw us drop to 16th in what was then Division One – not a million miles from where we find ourselves now.
The Peterborough figure dragged our home league average this season down to 14,265 – considerably below our 15,707 last term, which marked our return to non-Premier League football.
Not so different
In an attendance league table, we currently stand 16th – which again equates roughly to where we are in the results-oriented real table – suggesting a correlation between results and attendance rather than merely prices charged.
Of course, the mystery factor this time around is the recession effect.
A talented young journalist called Andrew Watt has done a bit of research for me, comparing Pompey’s league crowds in previous recessions.
And it suggests things are not too different this time round.
The bars on the graph plot Pompey’s average attendances in each of 10 recession-hit seasons in the past 40 years (up to and including the Pompey v Cardiff City match this year).
The lines show those seasons’ average of all clubs in Pompey’s division.
Understandably, given the respective capacities, the two Premier League seasons featured – 2008/9 and 2009/10 – put Pompey’s average well below the league average.
But of the other seven completed seasons, Pompey’s crowds are below the average on three occasions and virtually on that average on a fourth.
On the other three, Pompey attendances exceeded the average. On two of those occasions, Pompey were playing in the third tier, where our crowds were inevitably above the norm.
The other represented one of our more successful second-tier seasons, when we finished ninth in a Division Two that included the likes of Cambridge, Blackburn, Swindon, Watford, Southend, Bristol Rovers, Tranmere, Barnsley, Grimsby, Oxford and Port Vale – not clubs renowned for their high attendances.
In other words, in comparable situations in the past, we’ve tended to suffer, too.
This season – and last – our crowds have hovered disappointingly below divisional averages of around 17,000.
But put in perspective, that’s a figure we were only just able to beat even during our Premier League odyssey, and which we’ve never got anywhere near during any modern-era recession.
So in pure numerical terms, we’re not doing so badly at all.
It’s a fascinating glimpse of how economic concerns clearly affect attendances and appears to support my view that prices alone are not the reason for Pompey’s attendance decline.
Once again, of far more importance is value for money.
And unfortunately, at the moment that’s not something you can rely on at Fratton Park.