Record Attendances in Football

Standing Kop
Standing at the old Liverpool Kop end

More than anything else, football is a spectator sport. If there’s no one there to watch the game taking place then it’s just a load of people kicking a ball around and being really competitive. In the past some of the sport’s most iconic venues set incredible attendance records, with more than 60,000 people often turning up to watch matches being played.

That’s changed dramatically in recent times, for a host of reasons. But what are those reasons? What has impacted attendances at football matches? What do the trends look like for the future? We’re going to explore how the way we watch the beautiful game has changed and what is likely to happen moving forward.

Premier League Stadium Record Attendances

Stadium Attendance Match
Stamford Bridge 82,905 Cheslea v Arsenal (1935)
Goodison Park 78,299 Everton v Liverpool (1948)
Old Trafford 76,962 Wolves vs Grimsby Town (1939)
Villa Park 76,588 Aston Villa v Derby County (1946)
St James' Park 68,386 Newcastle v Chelsea (1930)
Anfield 61,905 Liverpool v Wolves (1952)
Molineux 61,315 Wolves v Liverpool (1939)
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium 61,104 Tottenham v Chelsea (2019)
The Emirates 60,161 Arsenal v Man United (2007)
London Stadium 59,870 West Ham vs Man City (Aug 2019)
Elland Road 57,892 Leeds v Sunderland (1967)
Turf Moor 54,755 Burnley v Huddersfield (1924)
The Etihad 54,693 Manchester City v Leicester City (2016)
Selhurst Park 51,801 Crystal Palace v Burnley (1979)
Carrow Road 43,984 Norwich City v Leicester (1963)
Vicarage Road 34,099 Watford v Man United (1969)
St Mary’s 32,363 Southampton v Coventry (2012)
King Power Stadium 32,242 Leicester v Sunderland (2015)
Falmer Stadium 30,682 Brighton v Liverpool (2019)
Community Stadium 16,479 Brentford-Arsenal 13th August 2021

Record Attendances in Other Leagues

Historical Football Attendances

Whenever people talk about football it always seems as though they harken back to the ‘good old days’ from the past. We look back on a time when footballers were ‘real men’ and could crunch into tackles, practically destroying an opponent’s career and simply call it a ‘proper tackle’. The same is true of attendances at football matches, with the following being just some of the record crowds from well-known stadia:

But has that always been the case? It may surprise you to learn that a quick look at teams that made up the Premier League in the 2015-2016 season tells a slightly different story when it comes to their highest average attendance by season. Here’s a table of each club with the year of their record highest average attendance and the amount of people who turned up:

TeamRecord Average AttendanceYear
AFC Bournemouth 16,854 1948
Arsenal 60,079 2013
Aston Villa 47,320 1949
Chelsea 48,260 1955
Crystal Palace 30,167 1973
Everton 51,603 1963
Leicester City 31,693 2015
Liverpool 52,171 2015
Manchester City 47,075 2014
Manchester United 75,826 2007
Newcastle United 56,283 1948
Norwich City 28,420 1973
Southampton 31,699 2004
Stoke City 31,590 1948
Sunderland 47,785 1950
Swansea City 22,535 1949
Tottenham Hotspur 55,509 1951
Watford 19,488 1983
West Bromwich Albion 38,910 1950
West Ham United 34,846 2015

You can see from that table, then, that it’s a real mix. Six of the clubs in there have set their average attendance record since the turn of the millennium. That includes some of the game’s most successful clubs in Manchester United and Liverpool. The idea that attendances have dwindled across the board in recent times is, therefore, debatable.

For current attendances and record attendances for all football grounds see out league or country pages.

What Factors Affect Football Attendances?

Television

It is common when entering a debate around attendances in football for people to point to the ever-expanding amount of television coverage as a reason why the amount of people going to see live football is dropping. It is almost like a go-to excuse for the critics of televised sport to point to and say, “See, live football is harming how many people go to the match”. But is it actually true?

The first ever televised football match was a friendly game between Arsenal and Arsenal reserves that was broadcast by the BBC on the 6th of September 1937. A year later an international game between Scotland and England was shown on the 9th of April. On the 30th of April an FA Cup game between Huddersfield Town and Preston North End became the first competitive club match shown on TV.

Football wasn’t shown live on TV until 1946 and even then it was only twenty minutes of the first-half and half an hour of the second period. The first attempt to show football live regularly was made before the 1960-1961 season when ITV made a deal to show 26 games from the Football League live. It backfired for them when clubs refused to allow them to film in their stadiums and the Football League demanded an increase in player appearance payments.

There’s no question that the televised nature of football has become more prolific in the modern era, specifically since the advent of the Premier League. Yet the idea that it was some pure, untouched and virtuous sport that was only seen by those who attended matches in the days of yore is clearly nonsense. In fact, it was the increased interest in live football throughout the 1980s and 1990s that actually led to the formation of the Premier League in the first place.

Some research was done into the attendances at live football matches in Scotland in the 2013-2014 season. Here are the results from five games chosen at random:

TeamAverage Attendance At Televised GamesAverage Attendance From The Season
Aberdeen 16,589 12,918
Celtic 47,899 47,079
Hearts 12,561 14,123
Kimarnock 6,822 4,250
St Johnstone 4,624 3,806

The information suggested that, contrary to the common opinion, attendances were actually up on the average of televised matches than the season average. Obviously this is not absolute proof and the date, found here isn’t flawless, yet it’s an interesting notion that perhaps attendance problems at football aren’t all the fault of television broadcasters.

Ticket Prices

If clubs want to know why their matches aren’t attended as much as they’d like then perhaps they need to have a look at their own greed on the subject. When The Taylor Report into The Hillsborough Disaster suggested that stadiums needed to be converted to all-seater venues Lord Justice Taylor was clear that the cost of doing the work should not be foisted onto supporters.

The clubs didn’t listen. Prices have risen steadily over the years, with this table showing the cheapest season ticket prices from 1981 compared to 2014 making for remarkable reading. Again, five clubs have been chosen at random:

Club1981 Price In 2014 Money2014 Price
Arsenal £273.05 £1014
Everton £178.78 £444
Liverpool £204.79 £710
Manchester United £136.53 £532
Tottenham Hotspur £201.54 £765

You can tell from that information that football clubs have turned the screw on supporters in remarkable fashion over the last three decades. In most cases the price of the cheapest season ticket has trebled at least. In an era when the economy is versatile and people have less disposable income, that is always going to limit how many people can go to watch football and how often they’re likely to do it.

There have been numerous campaigns over the years to get the Premier League to act. In 2016 they responded to requests to put a £20 cap on away ticket prices by imposing a £30 cut-off for travelling supporters and that’s admirable. However those same supporters still need to make the journey to grounds as far away as Sunderland, Southampton and London as well as buy food and, depending on the kick-off time, accommodation.

In February of 2016 the owners of Liverpool Football Club announced a new ticket pricing scheme that would see the most expensive match day ticket at Anfield rise to £77. Supporters felt this was too much and organised a walkout on the 77th minute. More than 10,000 people left the ground with more than twenty minutes to play and it forced Fenway Sports Group into a re-think. Eventually they backed down on the pricing and apologised.

If clubs want to see an increase in the number of people attending matches then it’s clear that they need to do more. Simply freezing prices won’t be good enough. Supporters can see the amount of money in football, particularly thanks to the TV deals that the clubs benefit from, and if they don’t start to see the money returning to them in the form of cheaper ticket prices then attendances are likely to dwindle even further.

Stadium Capacity

One of the less thought about changes that has occurred over the years that will have made the biggest different to some clubs is the size of their ground. The move to all-seater venues in England meant that most clubs couldn’t get the same number of fans inside their stadiums. Terraces were a cheap and convenient option, with thousands of people standing in a space that far fewer are able to sit in nowadays.

It works the other way around too, of course. Looking back at the table regarding the highest average attendance in a club’s history, it’s no surprise that both Liverpool and Arsenal have recorded theirs since they have been playing in a stadium that can allow more people into it. The Emirates has a capacity of 60,432, whilst the newly developed Anfield with it’s increased Main Stand can now welcome 54,074 supporters through its doors.

Top 25 Biggest Attendance Records (Worldwide)

Stadium Attendance Match
Hampden Park 149,547 Scotland v England (1937)
Santiago Bernabéu 128,000 Real Madrid v D Zagreb (1974)
Camp Nou 120,000 Barcelona v Juventus (1986)
Ibrox 118,567 Rangers v Celtic (1939)
Stadio San Paolo 112,365 SSC Napoli v AC Perugia (1979)
Rajko Mitić Stadium 110,000 Red Star v Ferencváros (23/04/1975)
Luzhniki Stadium 102,538 USSR v Italy (1963)
NSC Olimpiyskiy 100,062 Dynamo Kiev v Utrecht 1985
Stadio Olimpico 100,000 Italy v Hungary (1953)
Wembley 89,874 Portsmouth v Cardiff City (2008)
Olympiastadion Berlin 88,075 Hertha Berlin v 1 FC Köln (1969)
Celtic Park 83,500 Celtic v Rangers (1938)
San Siro 83,381 Inter Milan v Schalke (1997)
Signal Iduna Park 83,000 Dortmund v Schalke 2004
Stamford Bridge 82,905 Cheslea v Arsenal (1935)
Stade De France 80,832 Guingamp v Rennes (2009)
Atatürk Olympic Stadium 79,414 Galatasaray v Olympiacos (2002)
Goodison Park 78,299 Everton v Liverpool (1948)
Veltins-Arena 77,803 Germany v United States Ice Hockey 2010
Old Trafford 76,962 Wolves vs Grimsby Town (1939)
Villa Park 76,588 Aston Villa v Derby County (1946)
RheinEnergieStadion 76,000 Germany v Austria (1953)
White Hart Lane 75,038 Tottenham v Sunderland (1938)
The Valley 75,031 Charlton v Aston Villa (1938)
Allianz Arena 75,000 B Munich v Schalke 04 (2015)

The Future of Stadium Attendances

It’s difficult to tell which way attendances will go in the future. What we do know is that clubs like Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City have plans to either develop their stadiums further or else completely re-design them. Part of these developments will see an increase on their current capacity.

There is also talk of a return of standing sections in the coming years. Celtic were allowed to trial safe-standing in the 2016-2017 season. If that happens around the country then capacities will no longer be limited by how many seats clubs can fit inside their grounds.

What does seem clear is that the top clubs will be less likely to struggle than smaller ones moving forward. This is because they benefit most from television deals and they’re also the ones most likely to get new followers and be able to afford to develop their stadiums in order to allow those new followers to attend matches. However things develop, clubs would do well to explore how they can arrest the slide of supporters attending games.