This Week in Football: Ivor Heller’s View

My thought for the week comes about because I am feeling a certain amount of jealousy at the moment. Bristol Rovers played Plymouth on Saturday; they got a crowd of 10,000. This is no surprise, Bristol have a great home support and Plymouth have got a great travelling support, on top of this both teams are flying! But 10,000 people paying to watch a game is not an insignificant number in League 2.

Having said this, we were just at Notts County on Saturday where the argument for having too big a ground comes into play. Our fans were housed in a stand that holds over 5,000, maybe more, and we had it all to ourselves! It’s a big stadium and it was more than half empty. The further down the leagues you go the smaller the crowds can get and the more soul destroying it can be playing in a large empty stadium and that’s something you have to guard against.

To be a financial success you have to have a certain amount of people going to games. If you have spent a large amount on a ground and you can’t get enough people there on match days it’s going to start costing you money quite quickly. A big ground is only an advantage if you can put bums on seats. Notts County for example, will have no advantage at all.

Having a big ground doesn’t necessarily make you a big team, but there are plenty of teams that have been swimming around L1/L2 for a long time with lots of overcapacity. An empty stadium is a soul-destroying place to go, it’s not pleasant to be in that atmosphere, it’s something we must all guard against.

It’s left me wondering what kind of crowd we would get this Saturday after 4 consecutive wins. If we were back at Plough lane now, back at our new ground, I’d be expecting 7–9,000 fans. Oh to have that capacity, it’s going to be very useful.

I’m not going to talk about League 2 this week; I’d rather mention The Mighty Dons U18’s who are playing Chelsea in the last 16 of the FA Youth Cup on February 9th. Chelsea are widely considered to be the best U18 team in Europe. Getting to play them in the next round of the FA Cup at our place is something for the whole club to look forward to. There is nothing quite like pitting yourselves against the very best, at any age group. Chelsea won it last year and they’ve just been up to Manchester and beaten United 5–1. It’s going to be a big night and for those kids, something magnificent is happening.

Everybody knows that on their day Chelsea should win but, if they come down thinking they will brush past our lot they’ll get a surprise. Our kids have already proved they can give a bloody nose and they wont give up. As long as there’s a sniff of them still being in the game our boys will keep trying and trying. And if they get on top of Chelsea I don’t think there is a club in the world that would like to try and break this team of U18s down. They are a very determined group. Exciting stuff.

For a bit of fun the team at Wear Your Support have asked me for some predictions over the next few weeks and I’m going to start with the Championship. The Championship is such a tight league, there being only 4 points between Ipswich at 8th and Derby at 4th really hammers that home.

If you had asked me at the start of the season which two teams were getting automatic promotion I’d have said Hull, Middlesbrough and Derby but I’m not so sure now. I’m going to stick with Middlesbrough; with Steve Bruce at the helm they kept faith in him which was a good move. I would like to see Derby go up with them but I think Hull will get the 2nd spot. And I’ll say Derby to join them after the Playoffs.

Now at the other end of the table I think the whole of football is looking for Bolton Wonderers to turn it around. If they do then it would give me the greatest of pleasure to see the team in 20th, who shall not be mentioned but play somewhere in Buckinghamshire, take a relegation spot. I don’t think there are too many people in football who would lose sleep over them going down.

The team in a real shocking run at the moment, which is quite amazing, is Fulham. How have a team who have scored 43 goals, only Hull have scored more in the league (45), found themselves at 19th in the league? Because they have let in 48 goals! Saying that Charlton have let in 54, they are really looking in dire straights. It is incredible that next season teams from division two who get promoted could conceivably be playing the likes of Fulham, Charlton, The Franchise, Bolton or Rotherham. Unbelievable really.

If I was going to have a bet I’d have to pick Charlton, Rotherham and unfortunately Bolton. But I’d like to see Bolton get out of it. I’m pretty sure Fulham will have too many guns to get out of it, you can’t score that many goals and get relegated, you just can’t.

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