Why did football league clubs suffer such a drop in attendance during the 1950's?

Over the years, football in England has seen a decrease in attendance from the 1920’s to the present day, but the 1950’s saw a significant drop in spectators. The question is, why?

Football League attendances at the end of the 1948/49 accumulated to 41,271,424 people. These large numbers soon began to decrease throughout the 50’s, and by the 1961/62 season, this number had fell by 13.3 million, leaving accumulated attendances at 27,979,000. There are many theories that have been derived over the years on why attendance numbers may have dropped so significantly during this period, and the three that stand out the most are; the rise of the television, the rise in ticket prices, and the rise of the motorcar.

Firstly, the rise of the television. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth the second in 1953 was a key moment in the spike of television sales across the country. Prior to the coronation, television broadcasting resumed in 1946 after the end of the Second World War. At this time, many people did not own a television set as they were high in price and required a license like they do today, meaning only the richer families were able to afford one. Before the coronation took place, it was estimated that there were only a mere 10,000 televisions in homes in the UK. There were 526,000 television sets sold in the build-up to the Queen’s coronation, and an audience of over 20 million people watched it live on TV [1]. From this, it is thought that football clubs began to lose spectators as games were starting to be televised more frequently by the BBC, and by the time it reached 1961, 75 percent of households had a television set.

Another factor that has been considered as a theory for the drop is the rise in ticket prices. Over the years, ticket prices have gradually increased, and the cheapest price for a day ticket to a Premier League game is currently £22 at Leicester’s King Power Stadium, and the most expensive day ticket being £97 at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium [2]. If you were to convert this back to 1940, it would be around £9.85, which is still expensive for that time period. Before ticket prices began to rise, people could pay pence to watch a football match after work; for example, the 1928 FA Cup Final tickets only cost 25 pence. This would soon change, as after the war there was a higher demand for sporting events as a way of bringing people together and to celebrate the idea of freedom and victory as a country. This idea was called ‘post-war sport’ and was derived after the end of the First World War in 1919, and was also the reason for the original Wembley Stadium being built in the first place. A ticket for the FA Cup fourth round between Port Vale vs. Everton in 1956 cost £4 [3], fast forward 60 years later to 2016 and a ticket to watch Everton play in the FA Cup fourth round against Carlisle would of cost you £19 [4]. This shows the increase over time of the prices for tickets, which started to rise throughout the 50’s.

Finally, the rise of the motorcar. At the beginning of the decade in 1950, there were 2.1 million active motorcars across the country. Soon though, more and more people began to buy one due to the increase in speed and engine power throughout the years. Cars also started to become more affordable and practical and designs becoming more attractive, for example the Morris Minor. From the increase in car sales, this enabled families and friends to venture out further across the country, and people began to watch teams from other areas, and more importantly the bigger teams in the top tier of football at the time. This factor caused a huge slump in spectators for lower league clubs, as they suffered a more severe drop in numbers during this drop of spectators. There was also the fact that families could travel to places across the country to go on weekends away or trips to big cities, instead of the watching their local football club play on a Saturday evening.

It is possible that there are other factors that may have caused the drop, but there are no proven theories as it is hard to pin point what the main cause was. It is clear though that over the years, the decrease of spectators has been imminent and has never been able to reach the numbers it once was pre 1950’s.

By Liam Sterling


[1] The Answer Bank, 5th November 2001, How many people watched the Queen’s Coronation, http://www.theanswerbank.co.uk/Media-and-TV/article/how-many-people-watched-the-queens-coronation/ , 12th October 2016.

[2] The Independent, 14th October 2015, Ticket prices: How much does it cost to watch your team?, http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/premier-league/ticket-prices-how-much-does-it-cost-to-watch-your-team-a6694486.html , 12th October 2016

[3] The Guardian, 17th February 2015, When football was reasonably priced: your old ticket stubs from years gone by, https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/gallery/2015/feb/17/football-ticket-prices-old-ticket-stubs , 12th October 2016–10–14

[4] Everton FC, 19th January 2016, Carlisle Ticket Notice, http://www.evertonfc.com/news/2016/01/19/carlisle-ticket-notice , 12th October 2016

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