The crowd issue

Last updated : 21 November 2005 By Michael Morris

Clicke here for Western Mail story

I reckon the reporter is right in a couple of respects. Firstly, the need for the new stadium (for all sorts of reasons) is become more obvious with each passing week. Second, to ask the question "So what price tomorrow's gate barely touching the 9,000 mark?".

My own view is that it is likely that we will get our lowest crowd so far this season tomorrow - all of the reasons mentioned for a possible poor crowd in the article ring true to me and, don't forget there is Champions League football on yet again.

So why are the crowds so low? I don't think anyone can say for certain, but what I refuse to believe is that it is because the local sporting public are, apparently uniquely fickle in their attitude towards their teams. To believe that is to miss all sorts of points, two of which I believe to be particularly relevant.

Firstly, what happened at the club in the thirty years before Sam Hammam arrived cannot just be swept under the carpet. For more or less the first half of those thirty years we, somehow, managed to preserve our status in the division we find ourselves in now with a couple of relegations being followed by immeadiate promotion, but at the start of every season from 72/73 to 84/85 when we were in the old Second Division, the object of the exercise was merely trying to preserve our status.

However, when we dropped through the relegation trapdoor a third time in 1985, there was no quick come back this time and we spent the next fifteen years shuttling between the lower divisions - yes, there were the occasional good seasons, but they were always false dawns and at times during the Clemo, Cadman and Kumar regimes in particular we were, to be frank, a laughing stock.

Then Sam Hammam came along and everything seemed to change - we spent money like no ones business and paid wages that were bound to attract good players to the club. In those first three and a half years of the Hammam era if there were any weaknesses in team, people on here would say so and so is available for a million and Sam would be told to "go and get him"!

Under such circumstances, it was inevitable that the team would prosper and so some of those who used to laugh at us were tempted back to Ninian Park with gates climbing steadliy year on year.

People weren't too bothered about who was paying the wages and transfer fees because Sam was a "shrewd businessman" who had all the financial bases covered. Unfortunately, over the past two years or so, it has become clear that he didn't - he was just like any other football club chairman/owner who allowed his club to live beyond their means and we paid the consequences for that during a disasterous 2004/05 when, except for us being relegated, everything that could go wrong on and off the pitch did so!

It was during this time that I believe Sam Hammam paid the price for all the bravado and boasting of the early years of his Ninian Park reign. My own belief is that Sam Hammam was too effective. The bravado and boasting was believed by too many people (myself included) so that when the financial problems came and the players started leaving supporters felt let down by our owner because they genuinely believed he was different from other club owners - it was as if he was fireproof somehow.

I tend to think Sam Hammam has got lots of things right since last season and, having now met the man, I am convinced that, although he is out to make money, he is also genuinely concerned for the wellbeiing of the club. However, the problem as I see it for our owner is that the majority of the sporting public of South Wales disagrees with me.

Even amongst those who still go to games, there seems to be a different attitude to our owner - when is the last time the crowd sang a pro Sam Hammam song like they used to do all the time in his early years with us? Also the fact that Dave Jones seems to get all the credit for our better than expected results is another indicator of how things have changed - time was any credit going around would be shared between manager and owner.

The lower number of season tickets sold was the first concrete evidence of a mood of disenchantment amongst supporters who had to accept that, in spite of all the fine words, we were still the selling club we have always been - indeed, the fact that so many genuinely believed things were different this time can only surely have increased that disenchantment can't it?

To finish I must say that I do find it disappointing that crowds have not risen by more on the back of some great results for the team. The fact that they haven't though only serves to emphasise how deep the sense of disillousionment with the club runs amongst potential supporters - if we don't get any positive news on the new stadium soon, I think we will have to get used to these smaller gates for some time to come and, to be honest, given what has gone on at the club since the early 70s, I find it hard to be to critical of those "fickle" fans who have decided to do something else when we play at Ninian Park.