EPL: Ranking the Fan Bases for All 20 Sides
Ahhh, the Premier League. One of the world's richest football leagues. And home to household names far and wide. But who are the strongest and weakest in terms of fan support?
Let's see. There's Manchester United, then Arsenal, then Chelsea, then Liverpool...and then everybody else.
Wait a minute. Everybody else? The last time we checked, this is supposed to be ranking all 20 teams in the Premier League, not just the Big Four and meshing the other 16 in a cast-iron pot!
So without further ado, I present to you a ranking of the fan bases for all 20 teams in the Premier League this season.
20. Wigan Athletic
There's a reason why there are the bottom this list. Poor attendance, and a lousy moniker.
Wigan's fans and Wigan people in general are known as 'pie eaters' or 'pies' which is reference to the 1926 General Strike, when Wigan miners were forced to eat 'humble pie' and return to work before miners in other towns, even though they had been on strike before the other towns joined in.
Since then the word ‘pie’ has come to mean the pastry rather than the metaphor ‘Humble Pie.’
Well, you better eat some humble pie while you're at it down at the DW stadium because the hopes of you rising from the cellar are DOA.
19. Stoke City
Hooligan firms have placed Stoke near the bottom of this list, though they have die-hard fans who are amongst the best in the country. Crowds in the 2008–09 season were consistently full, with Stoke high in attendance figures for the league in 13th place after 25 games this season.
And when they are loud, they are loud. Check this out: research undertaken by Sky+HD during August, September and October of the 2008–09 season, showed that Stoke fans are the loudest in the Premier League, topping the chart with an average of 101.8 decibels.
But it won't be just being vocal that will help Stoke move higher in this list; they have to get fans from abroad. Oh yes, and the hooliganry could use a little impaling, too.
Now while Blackpool is sitting pretty in 10th place overall in the Premier League, their attendance is one of the lowest, and when you have a low attendance, the chances of you lingering near the bottom of this list is pretty good.
That's not to say Blackpool don't have a solid fan base in their own right. They do. In September 2009, freelance journalist Mike Whalley said after attending a game against Peterborough United: "The home fans certainly make plenty of noise. Bloomfield Road does not lack for atmosphere. Or a drummer. Every home game is played to a thumping drum beat."
And they were one of the first to have their own supporters' group. One of those: the Atomic Boys, who followed the Seasiders from the late 1940s to the 1960s. They would dress up in exotic tangerine clothing, even borrowing outfits from Louis Tussaud's Waxworks.
They adopted a live duck as a mascot, with one being donated to the group by American actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. At home games, The Atomic Boys would walk around the town before big games drumming up support and rousing the crowd on match days.
The tradition of dressing up for important matches has been continued to the present day. Not bad stuff. But it will take more than that to move up this list.
17. West Bromwich Albion
Most fans of the Baggies come from the Black Country, though many also hail from nearby Birmingham. The club also has many Scottish fans.
The official West Bromwich Albion Supporters Club has branches throughout the United Kingdom, as well as in Ireland, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Malta and Thailand.
They have a few very famous celebrities such as Julia Walters, Frank Skinner, Goran Ivanisevic, Cat Deeley, Eric Clapton and Adrian Chiles.
In BBC's 2002 "national intelligence test" called Test the Nation, they were found to be "more likely to be smarter than any other football supporters," registering an average score of 138.
Still, this survey emphasizes quantity over quality, and WBA will need to reel in more people if they want to be placed higher.
If it is true that Fulham's fans tend to be the most fair-weather of all the sides with attendance, then they aren't doing much to help their case, especially with the Cottagers staring down the face of relegation.
Nonetheless, Fulham supporters have played a vital role in the clubs long term stay at Craven Cottage.
When the club moved temporarily to Loftus Road, a committee known as 'Back to the Cottage' was formed, committed to ensuring the club continued to play at their spiritual home.
Better get your act together, Fulham fans...
15. Birmingham City
Hail, hail, the Bluenoses, who are 16th on this list. There are a number of supporters' clubs affiliated to the football club, both in England and abroad.
Notable examples: while an action group was formed in 1991 to protest against chairman Samesh Kumar, the club blamed an Internet petition for the collapse of the purchase of player Lee Bowyer in 2005, and antipathy towards the board provoked hostile chanting and a pitch invasion after the last match of the 2007–08 season, relations between club and fan base have never been so poor as to provoke the formation of an independent supporters' group.
When the club was in financial difficulties, supporters contributed to schemes which funded the purchase of players Brian Roberts in 1984 and Paul Peschisolido in 1992.
There have been several fanzines published by supporters; in 2010, two were regularly on sale, Made in Brum, first issued in 2000, and the longer-established Zulu.
While the Blues will need to do more to catch up with Aston Villa, Birmingham is in good stead and will be a club to watch out for in terms of fan support.
14. Blackburn Rovers
Blackburn Rovers supporters have formed several support clubs related to the team, and almost all of them are partially focused on making trips to Ewood Park easier.
Blackburn also have a very vocal support group when it comes to big decisions being made for the club, a support group created on a media site, objecting to the appointment of Sam Allardyce as replacement for outgoing boss Mark Hughes, for instance.
Celebrity fans include the current Doctor Who, Matt Smith, comedians Jim Bowen and Lee Mack, Justice Secretary Jack Straw, fashion designer Wayne Hemingway and former World Superbike champion Carl Fogarty.
Solid fan base, along with longevity in the Premier League, equals 15th place on this list.
13. Wolverhampton Wanderers
To the Wolves we go! Wolverhampton Wanderers has an international support base, with supporters' clubs in Australia, the United States, Sweden, Spain, Germany, the Republic of Ireland, Malta, Iceland and Norway amongst others.
They have an especially large Scandinavian fan base, due to Scandinavian television coverage of Midlands football during Wolves' dominant period in the seventies. They also have numerous supporters' clubs across the United Kingdom.
Here's another fun factoid: Wolverhampton Wanderers' supporters are able to put themselves forward for selection to the Fans' Parliament which sits for two-year periods at a time.
The initiative, implemented in 2006, invites approximately 30 independently-selected candidates to attend meetings at Molineux every two months. Meetings are usually attended by CEO Jez Moxey, alongside a variety of other club personnel.
A worldwide fan base, along with a fans' parliament? That'll put you in good stead. Some work will need to be had regarding their team: they are in the relegation zone with only 15 points to show for it.
12. West Ham United
This is Barack "Blowing Bubbles" Obama's club. Oh, you didn't know that the 44th President of the United States of America supports the Hammers? (By the way, if you already knew, give yourself a hand, unless it's because I just told you. That would be cheating.)
According to legend-turned-fact, a 2003 visit to England was the impetus behind Mr. Obama's support for the club. Another reason why West Ham are ranked this high is because their hooligan firms are the among the most famous in the Premier League.
A former hooligan named Cass Pennant wrote books on groups like the Inter City Firm (i.e. 2003's "Congratulations, You Have Just me the ICF.")
Combine that with the creativity of its more well-behaved supporters to come up with chants and songs relative to the signs of the times, and you got EPL fan base that is 12th. However, this could all be a mere consolation prize, as the Hammers are at the bottom of the league table.
Sunderland held the sixth highest average home attendance out of the 20 clubs in the Premier League at the end of the 2009–10 season with an average of 40,355.
The club has many supporter groups from various countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada and Cambodia. Cambodia, ooooh.
And these fans were recorded as the loudest crowd in the 2007–08 season, following a survey carried out at every ground in the league; the highest peak volume was measured at 129.2 decibels.
They're doing well this season as a team, and so are their fans, who rank 11th on this list.
10. Bolton Wanderers
On to the top 10 we go.
The Bolton Wanderers Supporters Association is the official supporters' association of Bolton Wanderers Football Club. The Supporters' Association came into being in 1992, and in 1997, shortly after the move from Burnden Park to the Reebok Stadium, BWSA accepted the Club's kind invitation to hold its monthly meetings at the Club's new home.
The Reebok has continued to be their venue ever since. They now have a membership numbering hundreds. Whilst the majority live locally in and around the town of Bolton, membership has spread across Europe and around the world.
In the year 2000, the Association expanded even further when its invitation to affiliate was accepted, not only by Bolton Wanderers supporters groups in other parts of Britain, but also by groups around the world.
All of these foreign groups have come on board to become independent, but integral, parts of the official Bolton Wanderers supporters' family.
Indeed, requests for affiliated status continue to be received regularly from other places around the world where Wanderers fans find themselves gathered together.
Affiliations from every nation will put you smack dab in the middle on this list. They have a ways to go before they can consider themselves in the same stead as the top 10, but they are head and shoulders above all the rest.
9. Manchester City
It may not have the same fame and fortune as Manchester United, but Manchester City has a growing fan base, and its home games are well-attended.
Manchester City has a large fan base in relation to its comparative lack of success on the pitch. Since moving to the City of Manchester Stadium, Manchester City's average attendances have been in the top six in England, usually in excess of 40,000.
Even in the late 1990s, when the club were relegated twice in three seasons and playing in the third tier of English football (then Division Two, now Football League One), home attendances were in the region of 30,000, compared to an average for the division of fewer than 8,000.
Research carried out by Manchester City in 2005 estimates a fan base of 886,000 in the United Kingdom and a total in excess of 2 million worldwide.
That will get you on the top 10 of this list, no problem.
8. Aston Villa
From Manchester...to Birmingham once again, and one of the clubs that has been on the Premier League since its inception. Aston Villa's have a large fan base and draw support from all over the Midlands and beyond, with supporters clubs all across the world.
A number of organisations have been set up to support the local community including Aston Pride. A Villa in the community programme has also been set up to encourage support amongst young people in the region.
The main groupings of supporters can now be found in a number of domestic and international supporters' clubs. This includes the Official Aston Villa Supporters Club, which also has many smaller regional and international sections.
Longevity and global support. And while their football team has yet to pick up its share of the weight, the fans are picking up the slack in response. Well done, those Villans.
7. Newcastle United
After spending one season in the doldrums of the League Championship, Newcastle United are in good stead and move in to seventh on this list.
Talk about devotion: in a 2004 survey by Co-operative Financial Services, it was found that Newcastle topped the league table for the cost incurred and distance travelled by Newcastle based fans wishing to travel to every Premier League away game.
And the cost was highest whether travelling by car, train or coach. The total distance traveled was found to be equivalent to a round-the-world trip.
Also, in a 2007 Virgin Money survey of football supporters who held season tickets or otherwise paid to attend games, it was found that Newcastle fans were the most loyal in terms of making sacrifices in order to attend the game.
High devotion deserves a high place in these rankings. That's no ordinary army—that's the Toon Army.
Now we move on to the Toffees, who are not exactly strong enough to crack the top five, but are good enough to be in the Top 10.
Everton have a large fan base, with the eighth highest average attendance in the Premier League in the 2008–09 season. The majority of Everton's matchday support comes from the North West of England, primarily Merseyside and Cheshire.
Everton also have many fans who travel from North Wales and Ireland. Everton also have many supporters' clubs worldwide, such as North America, Singapore, Norway, Lebanon, Thailand and Australia.
The team will need to pick up the pace, as they are staring in the face of the drop, but the fans should give them added incentive to stay up.
5. Tottenham Hotspur
Fifth on this list, and fifth on the league table as of now, are the Spurs.
Tottenham have a large fan base in the United Kingdom, drawn largely from North London and the Home Counties. Five times between 1946 and 1969, Tottenham had the highest average attendance in England.
There are also Tottenham supporters' clubs located all over the world. Tottenham were ninth in average attendances for the 2008-09 Premier League season, and 11th for all Premier League seasons.
The phrase "You'll Never Walk Alone" is synonymous with Liverpool, who are fourth on this list.
During the 2009–10 season, Liverpool had the fourth-highest average League attendance for an English club: 44,392, which is 94.4 percent of available capacity.
So far this season, the Reds have an average home attendance of 42,677, which is still not too dang shabby.
In fact, the club is so popular that an offshoot of this team has been created, AFC Liverpool. And with Liverpool being a brand name in its own right, the Reds have every reason to be in the Top 5.
The power of Arsenalisation must not be underestimated. The soul of Highbury never went away; it just possessed the new home of the Gunners, the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal's fan base is large and generally loyal, and virtually all home matches sell out; in 2007–08 Arsenal had the second-highest average League attendance for an English club (60,070, which was 99.5% of available capacity), and as of 2006, the fourth-highest all-time average attendance.
The club's location, adjoining wealthy areas such as Canonbury and Barnsbury, mixed areas such as Islington, Holloway, Highbury, and the adjacent London Borough of Camden, and largely working-class areas such as Finsbury Park and Stoke Newington, has meant that Arsenal's supporters have come from across the usual class divides.
In addition, Arsenal have the highest proportion (7.7%) of non-white attending supporters of any club in English football, according to a 2002 report.
This year, through 17 games played, Arsenal have the second-highest attendance of all EPL teams with 60.037.
In second are the defending league champions, Chelsea.
Chelsea have the fifth highest average all-time attendance in English football and regularly attract over 40,000 fans to Stamford Bridge; they were the fifth best-supported Premier League team in the 2009–10 season, with an average gate of 41,423.
Chelsea's traditional fan base comes from working-class parts of West London, such as Hammersmith and Battersea, from wealthier areas like Chelsea and Kensington, and from the surrounding counties.
In addition, they have a strong fan base internationally, the result of success in competitions like the UEFA Champions League.
1. Manchester United
We had to save the best for last, and this team is the pacesetter. So what if there is a club like FC United of Manchester formed out of protest?
The main fan base is still there for Manchester United, who top league attendance just about every year, and are doing so once again this season with 75,059 coming to a match.
Manchester United is reputed to be the most popular football club in the world, with the highest average home attendance in Europe. The club's worldwide fan base includes more than 200 officially recognised branches of the Manchester United Supporters Club (MUSC), in at least 24 countries.
The club takes advantage of this support through its worldwide summer tours. Accountancy firm and sports industry consultants Deloitte estimate that Manchester United has 75 million fans worldwide, while other estimates put this figure closer to 333 million.
That's all you need to know right there. And that's why the Red Devils have the Number One fan base in the Premier League.