Boro Turnstiles In A Spin Over Dole Queue

A PICTURE paints a thousand words – and I’m throwing in the same again for free. Here’s a very telling graphic plus my own analysis of what appears a direct correlation between Boro’s attendance figures and the Teesside dole queue.
In recent years we have talked a lot on here about the price sensitivity of tickets and the role of recession in depressing gates, and we have tried to make anecdotal links between the current climate and previous bleaker times when Boro were in trouble. So here’s some concrete evidence to add meat to the bones of the debate.
The unemployment figures are from the Office of National Statistics and relate to the seasonally adjusted annual average unemployment rate in the Northern Region over the past 40 years. The attendance figures are Boro’s annual average over the same period. Let’s crunch numbers…

ON A bleak night in February 1985, just 3,477 demoralised fans turned out to witness Boro slip to a 2-1 defeat to Oldham at a moribund Ayresome Park.
Four days later the crowd lurched lower still to hit rock bottom. A meagre 3,364 saw Willie Maddren’s ailing side slump 1-0 to Notts County, the lowest ever league crowd at Ayresome in almost 100 years of professional football.
That season a club sliding towards liquidation recorded 14 gates under 5,000 and posted a sparse average of just 5,135, the worst since stepping out of the Victorian quaintness and sepia tinted parochialism of the Northern League for the modernity of the Football League in 1899.
That sickening season in the mid-80s was bleak. With the few remaining stars flogged off in the Charlie Amer fire sales, mounting debts spinning out of control and gates in freefall, the future of the club looked gloomy. There was a real stench of death about crumbling Ayresome Park.
But while the crowds were hitting an all time low, unemployment figures on Teesside were rocketing. Just look at the blue line soar painfully, relentless upwards on the graph.
Attendance unemployment table.jpg
Remember, Teesside’s heavy industry was starting to be slowly dismantled in the first signs of a seismic structural shift in Britain’s economy.
Engineering giants Head Wrightson’s at Mandale had finally closed the previous year after years of withering and the rapidly shrinking Smith’s Docks at South Bank was to follow quickly in 1986 leaving thousands of highly skilled Teessiders signing on.
The twin powerhouses of the local economy, British Steel and ICI, the foundations of our “Infant Hercules” were locked into a frantic spiral of job cuts that would throw tens of thousands more on the dole with a corrosive knock-on effect in related firms and a ruinous ripple down the high streets and through the estates of an area dependent on them.
And with Margaret Thatcher’s government pursuing a ruthless slash and burn policy of public spending cuts, thousands more jobs were being pruned from local authorities and health and education in an area always acutely vulnerable to such seismic convulsions in Whitehall.
In 1985 Teesside looked like it was shutting down. A generation of youngsters had left schools and went straight to sign on and collect their UB40 – including me – while whole layers of the highly skilled recently unemployed joined the “diasBoro” and were scouring England and Europe and beyond for work, many never to return.
Teesside’s response to the hardship inspired both gallows humour and small screen zeitgeist hit Auf Wiedersehen Pet (and to a lesser extent The Black Stuff) at the time, although that was stolen and repackaged as other regional stereotypes. But that’s just Boronoia and I digress.
As the recession ravaged Teesside a string of local names in the retail sector went under – Frankie Dees, Lowcocks, Gaskins, Nimans, even the fabled Boro Fish Bar – and the impact was also felt at the Ayresome turnstiles. With belts being tightened, days out at the match, especially when the team was so woeful, was the first casualty.
Just as Boro’s gates scraped dangerously along the bottom plunging the club into crisis, Teesside’s unemployment figures peaked as the proportion of the workforce signing on hit a post-War high of 11.8%.
The peak and trough on the graph at this point is the starkest illustration possible of the direct correlation between Boro attendances and dislocation in the local economy.
But there are other inescapable spikes and dips too. There seems a direct relationship between the dole queue and the click of the turnstile.
In the short but sharp recession of the early 1990s Teesside faced rapidly rising jobless figures once again, a wave of house repossessions as mortgage rates soared and the structural shift from industry to the service sector had accelerated and had hit the local economy hard.
As the unemployment rate nudged back up from 7.1% (which was painful but we had grown used to it) to the double digit damage of 10.4% between 1990 and 1993, crowds fell back quickly from a bubbling Bruce Rioch top flight high of 19,999 to a dismal and divided Lennie Lawrence limp finale of 10,400.
And that was at a time when Boro were riding high. After the climb from the coffin Boro had enjoyed two successive promotions then after the dip in the last days of Brucie, there was a play-off push and a promotion and a renewed ability to sign players. It should have been a period of at least stability in gates but in fact the average was almost halved.
And crowds have dipped again in recent years too, from 28,428 in the last Premier League season to an average of 16,269 last term, a catastrophic 12,000 plunge in three admittedly calamitous seasons.
But while the poor quality of the football on offer has undoubtedly been a major factor in the fall – we’ve discussed that to death – it would be wrong to dismiss the economic context lightly.
Through the Riverside Revolution boom years unemployment on Teesside dropped back and then stayed roughly at the 5% mark before, in the last three years, it has climbed back up to 7.8%. There have been further convulsions in the local economy as the steel, chemical and engineering industries hav econtracted further and even our saviours from the service sector have suffered. Garlands going under was as painful as the blow to Corus. Unemployment on Teesside is again in the national spotlight and as one of the areas most vulnerable to another round of mooted public sector spending cuts there is probably more to come.
Certainly the club have not dismissed the wider finances of the area. Chairman Steve Gibson often points out that Teesside is one of the lowest waged regions of the country, has pockets of quite severe deprivation – and especially in the estates that were once the heartland of support – with generally significantly higher levels of unemployment and benefit dependency than the national average and as a consequence, Boro is operating on a far lower income base than their rivals.
Even given the fact the club have frozen season ticket prices for six years – given inflation it is almost 20% cheaper now than five years ago – and junior prices have been slashed, the drop in gates has been alarming.
And not just gate income but merchandising and hospitality revenue has taken a big hit. In recent years Teesside has been getting the team it can afford.
When times are hard people start to cut back on luxuries. And when the season ticket renewals arrive and a family of four are looking at £1,000 they face a big decision. With rising unemployment and widespread economic uncertainty it is no surprise that so many households have decided against that particular luxury.
Even match by match, going to watch the Boro is expensive. The dad and lad matchday experience rarely comes in at less than £40 these days, and that is a luxury beyond most families on the dole.
Likewise in the previous slumps. In Maggie’s eighties depression that blighted Teesside the match was an obvious area to trim a budget.
It was the generally young, working class men, those in their late teens and early 20s – the prime terrace years – that bore the brunt of unemployment. While going to the match was relatively cheap if you were working, £2.80 plus the price of a pint or two with mates, it was a big chunk out of a £19 giro.
Plus, maybe just as importantly, this is the group most likely to have jumped on Norman Tebbit’s proverbial bike and leave Teesside in search of work. I know I did. Labour was our biggest export in the 80s and early 90s – it still is now – and that must have a direct impact on gates too.
Of course, you can’t discount the quality of football or intangibles like success and a buzz round the Boro. But success doesn’t automatically lead to higher gates. If times are tight, finance has a far bigger impact. People may want to go to the match but they can’t magic up money that isn’t there just because Boro are on a good run.
For example, Jack Charlton’s promotion season doubled gates and in that first golden top flight campaign they peaked at an average 28,604, but good finishes in a sustained spell of First Division football hat followed was not enough to halt a dramatic slide in gates as unemployment started to rise rapidly in the region.
John Neal took over in 1977 and played some attractive football exclusively in the top flight but nevertheless his reign saw gates collapse from 21,500 when he took over to 13,400 when he left. In the same period unemployment rates in Teesside had rocketed again from 5.6% to 10.7%. The impact of signing on outweighs a the impact of a purple patch for the team.
Similarly, the feelgood factor that had the Boro buzzing after escaping liquidation, after the fairytale return to the top tier and a team of local lads living the dream in a first Wembley appearance should have been reflected in gates for years to come.
But after years of steady decline from a mid-80s high of 11.8% to a still painful but more manageable 7.1%, unemployment took off once more in the recession of 1990 and when Boro should have been reaping the long-term benefit of the Rioch revival and renewed stability, they were struggling as the dole queue topped 10% again.
More recently the scenario has been played out again. After Boro’s Carling Cup win, a highest ever Premier League finish and a second success UEFA Cup campaign, gates actually went down as unemployment figures nudged up from 4.8% in 2004 to 7.7% in 2009, a mark where it still hovers at the present time.
So it seems there is no direct correlation between the perception of “success” on the pitch and crowds. But there most definitely is a visible link between unemployment and attendance.
(*This the 12 inch Crown House vs DJ Giro feat B1C remix of today’s Big Picture Column)
FOLLOW me on Twitter. There’s some great stuff. For instance, my popular #onthisboroday feature which is a collection of transfer flashbacks, memory matches, birthdays and sweeping from the floor of the trivia factory. Today’s factlet is:
2000: Boro sign Mrs Karembeu from Real Madrid for £2.1m & agree to take husband Christian as part of deal #onthisboroday…. which is as good an excuse as any to reprint this:


121 thoughts on “Boro Turnstiles In A Spin Over Dole Queue

  1. AV, any rumours on any possible transfers in?
    What award were you up for? Do you think it will mean more and more non-boro fans will contribute to the board?
    **AV writes: Maybe. There were some very articulate fanziney types who said they had been reading the board so lots hope they contribute a different perspective.

  2. I don’t agree with the argument that Boro’s attendances appear solely dependent on the prevailing unemployment rate.
    For a start unemployment figures – we all know (depending on your political standpoint) – are manipulated and distorted to a substantial degree by various Government -sponsored work placement schemes YTS, YOP.
    I started out in employment on Teesside in the mid-80’s and have remained in full-time employment ever since (save for a self-inflicted period of one month unemployment) during Bryan Robson’s Ayresome Championship Campaign of 1994/95.
    All through that time, I have continued to support the team – but have not renewed this season even though my disposable income dictates I could have without hardship.
    While clearly Vic has put in some sterling work regarding his statistics, though I would suggest fundamentally, that the purpose of this piece is to LOOK for a corelation rather than accept the reality that that statistics can be manipulated to suit any argument.
    For example hypothetically: it’s 37 years since Boro have won at Stamford Bridge. Yet, any Boro fan worth his salt understands that there must be at least a dozen seasons when that fixture couldn’t have taken place due to each clubs’ league status at that time.
    It’s all relative and the demises in attendances at Boro games can equally with as much credibility be attributed to largely periods in decline in the clubs fortunes – or otherwise in an upward spiral – ON the pitch.
    The exception appearing to be the Steve McClaren reign around 2004-2006. Boro’s own golden generation.
    Even so, the games immediately after the club’s League Cup success saw an instant and sizeable increase in home attendances. Southampton and Birmingham City both drawing crowds of over 31,000 for largely run-of-the-mill league fixtures. Though the average for that season clearly tells a different story if you believe figures alone.
    Also, it’s worth considering that other provincial areas similar to Teesside have also suffered economically over the same period of time yet other clubs attendances have held up in recession.
    Our support is and always as been at best respectable. At worst embarrassing.
    The club hold all the cards: Approx. £70 million has come into the club in transfer fees and parachute payments since relegation in 2009 (if we are to believe the figures published) with less than a tenth of that spent (also in transfer fees) and a half-hearted attempt to restore confidence and belief back into the Teesside people and its economy through promotion.
    That probably gives knowlegable fans the real inside track of just why Boro’s gates are as poor as they are for a club who five years ago contested the second-biggest club game in world football.
    **AV writes: I didn’t set out to LOOK for anything. The causal link between gates and unemployment is always mooted every times the subject is discussed but it has always been based on anecdotal evidence so one rainy afternoon I set about actually finding the figures.
    Plotting them against each other threw up an interesting and obvious visual corelation. I think there is a compelling argument that they are directly linked.
    Naturally there are other factors which will have an influence: the change in the demographics to a family audience for instance hasn’t been mentioned, nor has the rise in TV games or measuring local wealth by relative disposable income rather than employment, all which would be very hard to quantify, especially by a layman like me.
    How – or if – some of the other variables can be measured has been mentioned in the ensuing debate which I think has been very interesting and a useful exercise.
    The graph is not definitive or pre-determined. It is just the starting point for a discussion that hopefully will give us a firmer grip on a very complex subject.

  3. “Approx. £70 million has come into the club in transfer fees and parachute payments since relegation in 2009 (if we are to believe the figures published) with less than a tenth of that spent (also in transfer fees) and a half-hearted attempt to restore confidence and belief back into the Teesside people and its economy through promotion.”
    And how much spent in wages?

  4. No Emnes or Hines in Squad? No wonder we have no money, paying out too much sick pay for all these injured players

  5. Take the avearage hourly wage of a welder, the price of a pint and the price of the cheapest ticket for the match in relation to each other and plot them on a graph with the average attendance.
    **AV writes: I’ve done the beer curve before and it has roughly increased from two pints per match ticket in the early seventies to ten pints now (in non-trendy pubs). I’ll have a look at working the average wage in. We’ll end up with a very busy graph.

  6. Gt –
    And Halliday, and Steele, and Thommo. Not all the club’s fault but I wouldnt take a tour around Rockcliffe, someone did a good piece some time ago about the Spirit of Rockcliffe (was it Richard?)

  7. AV, do you think MacMoses will lend us Paul Smith as we need him with Steele out injured for three months? This would be quite logical me thinks but don’t know what the Smog’s unfavourite team thinks.
    Up the Boro!

  8. Borophil –
    I think we will need a grizzled McManus type centreback in this division to play alongside the more cultured players.
    It works in the top flight with the likes of Vidic and Ferdinand, the best partnership Chelsea had was Terry and Carvalho. The footballers were not afraid to put there foot in and the hard men could play a bit.
    Arsenal struggle because they dont have a hardman at the back (or a good goalie or a hardman in midfield).
    I suspect with the fee and salary for a McManus replacement you may as well stcik with the one we have if he is fit.

  9. Simon in the USA –
    I suspect we do not have much wriggle room yet on the wage bill.
    We do not know the full details though Vic’s comments indicate we needed to get £10m off the wage bill. Whether that included Wheater and O’Neill or not I dont know.
    I guess Digard, Boyd, Taylor, Arca and Flood amount to about £6m in wages and no transfer fees in the cases of Boyd and Digard.
    Even if Wheater and O’Neil are included I guess that takes us towards the £10m mark and fees will have gone to reduce the debt.
    At best we have probably reached the one in one out situation.
    It may be that the wage bill still needs to be trimmed and by comments on here we guess that the likely targets are Hoyte, Lita and some of Strachans buys but I guess any outs would seriously weaken the squad if no rplacements are brought in. We are already seeing a few long term injuries and only a week into pre season.
    **AV writes: I did my column on it yesterday. I included Wheater and O’Neil in the equation and roughly made it just over £8m saved since January.
    We believe Boro need to get down to the Championship average wage bill of around £10m and think there may be another £2m to go. That means two more of those players who are earning in the area of £20k out before Mogga has any real leeway.

  10. Maybe Ian, but I’d like to see Bates and Williams as our centreback pairing at the start of the season. They are possibly too similar as they both like to play the ball out but there is no reason that can’t work particularly if they have Nicky Bailey enforcing in front of them, who can slot in when one of them goes forward.
    Then if we did sell McManus I’d see no reason to replace him and use the cash elsewhere or put it towards savings.
    I see McClaren has been linked with Greening, Boateng and Zenden. Maccarone next.

  11. I don’t know about Southgate’s Theorum, but Moggamatics is delightfully simple:
    Sum > Parts
    What he’s managed to achieve with our rabble since he arrived is nothing short of a mathematical miracle. Akin to “discovering” the number 0, or the diameter of the earth.
    If only Gibbo could discover a few extra zero’s on the end of his bank balance!

  12. “Geoff said:
    How much saved in wages BoroPhil?”
    Irrelevant, the point is you said we had received £70m and half-heartedly spent £7m, ignoring the fact we will have paid out at least £40-50m in wages since then.

  13. French trialist midfielder Malaury Martin is close to signing a one-year deal according to MFC.
    He is a central midfielder as was Digard who has signed for Nice according to the French club. I suppose Martin is seen as helping Thompson to recover as we have plenty of central midfielders.
    So we seem to have some space for in-coming players now after Boydy has gone as well.
    I think we need a big centre forward (and sell Miller, too) and a right winger. When was last time we have had a natural right winger? Morrison perhaps but he has played more in centre since his days at Riverside, too.
    But glad we have moved the two most-difficult-to-sell players off our books. Now it’s time for some in-comings and later perhaps Hoyte, Lita, Grounds or Hines moving on.
    Life looks good – just cannot wait for some players coming in.
    #mogganaut and up the Boro!

  14. Borophil said: “…I’d like to see Bates and Williams as our centreback pairing at the start of the season. They are possibly too similar as they both like to play the ball out but there is no reason that can’t work particularly if they have Nicky Bailey enforcing in front of them, who can slot in when one of them goes forward.”
    I agree with that. I appreciate that neither Bates nor Williams are as robust as McManus, and that many notable partnerships at the back have included one ball-winner and one ball-player, but I think that reading the game and interceptions are as important as ball winning.
    Bates and Williams are not shy, and both read the game better than McManus in my opinion. That will make up for much of the loss of McManus’ more physical attributes, with the significant added bonus that both can set up attacks from the back and help the team keep possession (taking further pressure off the defence). Above all else, I just think that Bates and Williams are our two best centre-backs.
    There will, however, be occasions when we come up against a very physical front line, and McManus will be better suited to dealing with that.
    In the end I suspect that fitness will often be the deciding factor, but given the choice it would be Bates and Williams for me.

  15. AV – Bother, I missed the article, was it on the website or in the paper?
    One way and I hang my head in shame, the other I invoke the 5 mile rule.
    Moving on, the lead sentance on the thread by AV read ‘A PICTURE paints a thousand words’
    If you go back to the Boro Gazette homepage a series of main articles scroll over with pictures. One of them shows Steele trying to have a drink and pouring it into his eye. Two possibilities: We either need a new goalkeeping coach or that is the treatment prescribed by the Rockcliffe witchdoctors for his broken wrist.

  16. Is it just me, or does anyone else feel a sense of pride that Stewart Downing has gone to Liverpool for 20 million quid?

  17. Hartlepool selling season tickets at £100 each, if I lived closer I’d have bought one myself and I’m a Boro fan.
    I think its Wigan and Blackburn who are selling season tickets for £250. If Boro charged this then I’d probably get one, if Premier League clubs can charge that then why cant we?
    If we sold season tickets at £250, I think we would see a massive upturn in sales, just over £10 a game is a good deal and brings fans back.
    Something has to be done to bring the fans back, we always say it but nothing ever happens.

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