As Yeovil fell out of the FA Trophy at the first hurdle on Saturday, a total of 962 were in attendance at Huish Park to see the penalty shoot-out defeat by Dorking Wanderers. Given the circumstances around the club, that number was not totally surprising, but it has to be considered a disappointment.

Before recording Monday’s podcast, Ciderspace legend Huish Hugh asked the question when our last attendance for a first team fixture dropped below 1,000 and it’s actually pretty surprisingly rare to have less than 1,000 people at Huish Park for a first-team match.

Now, to clarify, this doesn’t include the Somerset (Men’s) Premier Cup, because the reality is that over the years we’ve used a mix of academy and first team players in the competition. Looking back over the years, including National League, FA Trophy, EFL, The League Cup, FA Cup, Johnstone’s Paint Pot Trophy (and it’s various guises) we’ve genuinely been well-supported.

Attendances below 1000

06.11.18 – West Ham United U21s – Check-A-Trade Trophy – 720
30.04.01 – Kingstonian – Nationwide Variety Club Trophy – 295
09.01.01 – Kettering Town – Nationwide Variety Club Trophy – 709
19.08.97 – Boreham Wood – ICIS Charity Shield – 873
26.11.96 – Yeading – Guardian Insurance Cup – 922
01.11.94 – Dagenham & Redbridge – Bob Lord Trophy – 719

Now, I think Saturday’s match with Dorking Wanderers was probably an anomaly. Given the cold weather, late notice of a pitch inspection, the festive period and the cost of living crisis, supporters will have certainly had a (not-so-difficult?) decision to make. However, aside from a cost-of-living crisis, these must have been factors the club have faced before. 

Malachi Linton fires in an effort. Picture courtesy of Mike Kunz.

However, with supporters on Facebook deciding to boycott the FA Trophy fixture, and the growing unrest amongst sections of the supporters, there is a need to find a way to buck the trend of dwindling attendances. We’re currently on course to have our average attendance at the levels is was in the mid to late 1990s.

Average League Attendances

2013-14Football League Championship661691084463+56
2014-15Skybet League One434668373509-34.3
2015-16Skybet League Two393660512954-9.4
2016-17EFL League Two356763062749-9.4
2017-18EFL League Two272137542205-23.7
2018-19EFL League Two295342232174+8.2
2019-20*National League295150562179-0.06
2020-21**National League149815001497-65.3
2021-22National League273839361260-7.4
2022-23***National League236028801906-14.8

*19/20 – season curtailed by covid
**20/21 – Covid season with two fixtures at limited capacity
***22/23 – Season so far (obviously)

Just how the club does it, who knows? Aside from the aforementioned SMPC, there’s no silverware left for the club to compete for this season. The tragic reality is that 2022/23 is now a battle for survival in the National League under Mark Cooper. The challenge for the club is how they can turn that into a compelling reason to get those undecided fans to part with their hard-earned cash to watch some gritty football for the rest of this season. We know there will always be a hardcore of supporters who will turn out regardless – but how do we attract others?

With the first annual rent charge due to SSDC in May (no-one is telling us how much that bill is – we’ve asked!), the club now need to find an extra wad of cash that they didn’t need to when they owned their home. The clock is ticking and for all we know (we’ve been told the square route of nothing), a few extra bums on seats – or feet on terraces – isn’t going to cover it. A sale of a contracted player might, mind.

There’s a difficult pattern re-emerging that were familiar with as supporters of Yeovil Town. After relegation from the Championship, attendances dropped, as we fell from League One they dropped, and as we circled the drain in League Two with uninspiring management and ownership the attendances dropped again. The result of this was less matchday revenue, less money to spend on players, lower-standard players, worse performances and relegation. 

the silent majority have been voting with their feet

After a season behind closed doors, you’d imagine a spike of people looking to return to a past time they loved pre-pandemic – things we’re pretty good before the season was curtailed in 2019/20. Alas, a fractured relationship due to broken communication and promises is resulting fewer people attending Huish Park. While there’s been little in the way of formal protest or action, the silent majority have been voting with their feet for many seasons now. 

Some will say there needs to be a change of owner. Some will say there’s not enough people in the town. Some will say people don’t have enough money to justify it. Some will say the matchday experience isn’t value for money. Some will say the football isn’t entertaining enough.

Perhaps is just a grim mash of all of the above. However you slice it, in 2023, something has to give.

Now, this has probably all felt a bit negative, such is the mood so let me try and offer a couple solutions which might go some way to helping mend fences.

  • I think a starting point would to give supporters the promised meeting and let them know what the future holds. Open the official, formal dialogue with the wider fanbase in an open setting. Broadcast it live on zoom, record it and make it 100% transparent for supporters who can’t attend as well. Only through this level of engagement will supporters feel they are listened to as a stakeholder of the football club.
  • Explain the nuts and bolts of the deal with SSDC. Who has the buyback? How much is the rent? If there’s nothing to hide, bring it out into the open. Bring the Chief Executive of SSDC or the Unitary Council along too.
  • Or for some, just sign a striker…

Note: After writing this, it was confirmed that the club had approval to move the marquee. A good step in the right direction for match day improvements for those who like a drink beforehand.

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John Rider-Dobson
1 year ago

While the options are good, not sure any will get actioned by the current ownership. I’m not fully versed in the details but looks like no way back on the council deal unless someone with cash buys back the ground? My view maybe far fetched but should we not peruse fan ownership… not far behind us is an example of rich’s to rags to 100% fan ownership in Scarborough Athletic, 4th in National League North. We may well be playing them in the National League next year. Not suggesting we go that route but having gone to a couple of Scarborough’s games local to me, the fans (who travel in numbers) are what we/not our owners should be aspiring to.