The Thundercliffe Files: the warning from a sagging gate

Cod Almighty | Article

by Paul Thundercliffe

29 November 2019

There are many reasons for Tuesday night's low attendance. But above all it was a warning sign for a club that has failed to build on what it had

Thundercliffe Files

The official attendance of 2508 for the Cheltenham game was the lowest Football League attendance at Blundell Park for over 30 years.

2288 hardy souls braved that Tuesday night game – coincidentally, also scoreless – in October 1988, as Town battled Tranmere. There should be no real surprise; attendances had dipped the previous relegation season and Buckley’s team took until the FA Cup in November to begin to gel.

Of course, we had lower attendances in the non-League years, but it only went under 2500 eight times in those 138 games. The nadir was a 2011 dead-rubber against Rushden & Diamonds when 2071 watched a patchy draw, Town’s team containing the likes of Bore, Peacock and Connell. The last two seasons in the Conference saw attendances relatively high as we dragged our way back into the promised land.

There are of course lots of factors as to why this week’s game saw such a paltry crowd. Seasonal reasons, TV football, the weather. All fairly standard but what struck me about Tuesday was how many season ticket holders had given it a miss and how empty the Pontoon looked. It had the feeling of a testimonial, and is testimony to the dire straits we find ourselves in.

People will forsake a winning team if they can watch an entertaining team. A team with purpose. Ideas and skill, verve and energy. In truth Town have been neither for months, the lack of confidence out on that pitch as clear as the toilets at half time.

The recent disruption to the fixtures hasn’t helped. Cheltenham was the first home league game in 37 days. Almost a pre-season. Out of sight and out of mind.
The Jolley tapes, the Brexiting of the club’s facilities and the lack of news regarding the takeover are all other facets, toxic and troubling that have added to the malaise.

It goes deeper than all of this. When grown men cried in Wembley three and a half years ago those tears were of relief, of joy and a real, fervent anticipation that the good times were back. Then Hurst broke the band up. Replaced heroes with previously relegated journeymen. Every time Podge scores a goal it is another nail in this clubs coffin.

The club got their priorities wrong too. The offers to season ticket holders vanished, loyalty to those who remained through thin and thinner deconstructed like a Welsh flag. They got greedy, blasé and have paid the price ever since.

Luton learned from their mistakes and built on their non-League success. Lincoln likewise. They now play to full houses, galvanised by support they cherished through darker days and worked with when back in the Football League. Town just didn’t put any effort in and as a result the fans have dispersed, disappointed and disillusioned.

At the same time as those 2500 were lamenting missed chances and another blank, crowds at Notts County, Chesterfield and Wrexham were all higher: the latter two despite their prominence in the bottom four of the Conference.

It is unforgiving, non-League. Ask Stockport and York. Ask Wrexham, there for 12 seasons now. We were lucky enough to escape and had the means to build on it, never to return, always looking up. The reality is that should the plot twist go against us come April, the toll on the club may be greater than just ever-dwindling attendances.