Bendy Crowd Statistics

People just love to go to the footy, support their team, vent their spleen, and become one with the action on the field for a couple of hours a week, much like WEG’s depiction below. And attendances at AFL matches are at an all time high. Though the figure dipped slightly the past two years with new franchises the Suns and Giants, this was to be expected. Add to that the large sections of redevelopment occurring at the SCG and Kardinia Park, and the dip in attendances is merely a blip on the radar.

In the year 1980, with football yet to go national, the total attendance figure for VFL home and away matches was 3,280,129. From 2005 to 2012, it hasn’t been below 6 million, meaning in effect, league attendances have doubled with the introduction of the national competition. Case closed, Australian Football goes from strength to strength, and they all lived happily ever after. The end.

…Oh, you’re still reading? Well perhaps that’s not exactly right. There are a few questions now you mention it. Is the AFL (that’s the Australian Football League, not a reference to the sport; Australian Football) more popular than it’s ever been as the attendance figures suggest? Is the AFL an ever expanding juggernaut which will never stop? And just how accurate are these figures? Can they be bent to appear more impressive than they actually are?

Let’s look at some obvious differences between the years 1980 and 2012, and how they may have impacted the attendances.

WEG Footy crowd

-In 1980, games were played simultaneously on Saturday afternoon at two o’clock. If you wanted a second footy fix in 1980 then it was to the VFA on a Sunday! Come 2012 and it is rare to have any matches played at the same time, with Friday night, Saturday arvo, Saturday twilight, Saturday night, Sunday early, Sunday arvo and Sunday twilight filling each round. The point? You can attend 2, 3 or even 4 matches a week if you’re particularly keen.

-Round 1,1980. The previous years grand finalists, Collingwood and Carlton, were matched in a blockbuster fixture. However only 29,593 could cram into Victoria Park. The return match saw 43,903 shoehorned into Carlton, giving the fierce rivals an aggregate of attendance of 73,596 for the year. Fast-forward to 2012 and the two clubs boasted crowds of 84,259 and 75,890. The moral? In 1980, Collingwood, Carlton and Essendon played at suburban grounds, severely limiting their attendance figures. In 2012, more people can go. Simple. Crowd figures are becoming bendier!

Now we get serious…or silly, I’m not quite sure. There’s no doubting that footy now has a presence in rugby league strongholds NSW and Queensland that could only be dreamed of in 1980. Weekly footy, multiple premierships to Brisbane and Sydney with state of the art stadia. But what about the traditional footy states-Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania? Sure, attendances in the Apple Isle have risen 100% since 1980, but that’s yet another bendy stat.

SANFL WAFL VFL

Top level footy in the SANFL, WAFL and VFL brought plenty of people through the gates! Left to right, Sturt’s Rick Davies, Claremont’s Warren Ralph, and Footscray fans, I might need your help with these two!

In 1980, the top level of footy you could watch in South Australia and Perth respectively were the SANFL and the WAFL. In Victoria of course it was the VFL, precursor to the AFL. The average attendance figure for a weekend of SANFL matches in 1980 was 40,928. The WAFL, 37, 356 and the VFL 149,096. Combined, the three states on average attracted 227,380 per week.

Fast forward to 2012, and South Australia’s average weekly AFL attendance is 28,369. In Western Australia it is 35,516. Only Victoria has seen an increase to the weekly attendance of top flight footy, now averaging 171,836 patrons.

Interestingly, the weekly average attendance in 1980 for the three states combined, 227,380, has risen only slightly in 2012 to 235,721 patrons weekly. The table below will hopefully shed some more light! Suffice to say, perhaps the current figures aren’t as healthy and as amazing as they seem.

Agg VFL SANFL WAFL

But let’s take things up a notch and get a little crazy! In 1980, Perth’s population was 898,000. With 37,456 on average attending the WAFL weekly, this meant that 4.17% of Perth’s population was heading to the footy. Perth now has 1,832,114 people, meaning that with an average of 35,516 attending AFL matches weekly, just 1.93% of Perth residents attend top level footy weekly.

Adelaide’s population in 1980 was 943,000, meaning that 4.34% of Adeladians went to the footy of a weekend. With the population now sitting at 1,262,940, just 2.24% of Adelaide’s population attends the AFL weekly. Finally Victoria. 1980 population was 2,806,000, and 5.31% of the population would attend the top level footy on a weekend. In 2011 it sits at 4.12%, still a large number, yet still a lower percentage.

So the three strongest footy states in Australia combined saw 4.8% of their combined population going to the footy in 1980, and just 3.24 in 2012? Where’s the growth? What happened to the record attendances the AFL often beat their chests about?

VFL WAFL SANFL tables

For some longer term perspective, 1965, a momentous year for Australian Football, saw just 2,458,697 through the gates in Victoria for home and away matches. But with just 18 rounds played, it still saw 141,594 Melbournians attend the VFL weekly, and with the population sitting at 2,068,000, this meatn that nearly 7% of the population were at the footy on a Saturday! (6.84%).

Even further back to 1924, a year before the VFL’s expansion from 9 to 12 teams, and the VFL, with just 4 games a weekend, still averaged 81,974 patrons each round. The population of 800,000 meant that a whopping 10.24% of Melbournians attended the VFL weekly, a most remarkable figure. I’d go back further except that reliable records have not been kept prior to 1921.

Ok, so I’m going way over the top and am now bending stats to say just what I want, but that’s the point of this piece, to show that figures can be manipulated to say what you need them to say. The AFL themselves have said on numerous occasions that they fixture games to maximise attendances, and I’m not saying this is a bad thing (unless it compromises a fair fixture.) But it should be taken into consideration when we hear that the game is more popular than ever due to record attendances.

(The author does still acknowledge that AFL crowds are somewhat a phenomenon when compared world wide)

With a little help from my friends – Image of Rick Davies from bigfooty, while images of Claremont and Footscray games from ‘The Australian Game of Football-since 1858’

And as per usual, thanks to http://www.aflstats.tk for your comprehensive VFL/AFL stats!

Home & Away #5 Lakeside Oval

Lakeside Oval: League venue: 1897-1981. League (VFL/AFL) matches: 704 (7 finals, including 1899 & 1901 Grand Finals). Record Attendance: 40,401, South Melb v St.Kilda, 1923

 

 This is part 5 in my series ‘Home & Away’, a look back at Melbourne’s old VFL grounds from a range of photos I took in the mid-2000’s. South Melbourne’s picturesque Lakeside Oval was last used as a league venue in the same year that I was brought into this world, 1981, as South Melbourne was bundled up north to become the Sydney Swans.  As such, I clearly never saw a Sherrin kicked in anger on the famous old ground. In fact I only once saw it as a footy ground before it became rectangularised, when dad took us to look around in the early 1990’s. I remember standing in the shadows of the old stand and dad being pleased that the tunnel in the outer terracing still existed. Not for long.

An very rare aerial shot of the Lake Oval dated between 1920-1940. Just over the back of the ground you can make out the newly planted palm trees which still standtoday. Image courtesy of http://www.austadiums.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1663

 I ventured down to the Lake Oval during grand final week of 2005, desperate to soak up something of the Swans past to  make relevant the impending ‘interstate’ grand final. I know that’s a very Victorian-centric mindset, but it’s what I needed to do to get myself up! Now there may have been just the old stand left, but I intended to explore it as far as was reasonable. But to set the scene, here is some old ‘Bloods’ passion which was bursting out!

The view down to Albert Park from Clarendon Street South Melbourne is still dominated by the 1926 old red brick stand. 

 Note the car in the bottom corner? Well that was an Albert Park worker who had come to paint over this battle cry. Have they no sense of theatre?

The oval, which is now home to Athletics Victoria, has been been spruced up somewhat. The soccer pictch remains, although a runnning track around it has made for an oval  shape returning to the venue, along with the name reverting to Lakeside Stadium, having been Bob Jane Stadium for a number of years. But as I took this photo, uncertainty surrounded the future of the grandstand, which was in a state of decay. The council and park were keen to help it on its way down, the Sydney Football Club not so. A compromise was finally reached, saving the stand.

The old stand hanging onto life, and an artists impression of what has since been turned into reality. While it is no longer a grandstand as such, it is far more a part of the oval than when it looked forlornly on at South Melbourne Hallas from the old forward pocket. (The wooden blue bench seats were snapped up from the Waverley Park fire sale!)

Clearly all that was left of South’s old home was the old grandstand. Luckily however there were still traces of days long gone, with various artifacts still remaining, some obvious, some well hidden. Below is a collection of bits and pieces which provides an interesting time capsual. Most if not all of these gems have since been removed with the redevelopment. Here are some fading images from yesteryear.

The old entrance gates and ticket boxes were obviously all locked up, though still proudly wore the fading licks of red South Melbourne paint. These doorways have been maintained in the new structure, far narrower than the modern day door!

From the outside all you could see was a rusty grate and darkness. The flash of my camera revealed some lovely red and white tiling of what could only be the loos. And similarly, the photo below these was another ‘stick the camera under the dark door and see what comes out’ moment. The photo has been significantly brightened and demonstrates how unloved the stand had become.


 

Then I plucked up some courage. There was an old door which appeared to be heavily locked. However as I fiddled around, I realised I could get it open. I simply could not tell what was in front of me it was that dark, so I quickly headed in and took a few shots with the flash. I had no idea of what or even who was in there, so I quickly departed to inspect my photos. What I found was the old nightclub ‘Redheads’, which operated well before my time but was apparantly quite the place to be!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 1975 film ‘The Great McCarthy,’ which follows the fortunes of South Melbourne’s gun full-forward recruit from the bush, has some of the most vivid and complete shots of the old Lakeside Oval in what would turn out to be it’s final days. Here are some stills I took off the telly a while back. Also, check out the youtube clip below, where someone has bothered to take all of the best ‘lake oval’ shots and put them into one clip from said movie.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the Night Premiership or Consolation Cup played at South’s Lake Oval between 1956 and 1971. Being the only ground with floodlights, the VFL decided that the teams who missed out on the final four would play off for the ‘best of the rest’ tag under lights! My dad remembers the jubilation he felt in 1962 as Richmond ‘actually won something!’ This was the precurser to what is now the preseason competition, which has become nothing more than an annoyance to fans. But night footy in the 1950’s, though there was the odd dark pocket or four, must have been exciting for Melbournians post-war. Heck… 36,000 turned up for Carlton and North in 1965!

As I drove past recently, the lights (not original) were on at the conclusion of an athletics meet. I quickly snapped this pic to try and somewhat commemorate the old night series at the ground.
Finally, there are some other stands and grouns which share a connection with Lakeside Oval. While SANFL club Norwood’s grandstand is not identical, it is the closest stand that I have come across to South’s old 1926 red brick number. It is essentially the same design, there are just a few ‘frilly’ bits which differ.

 

image from http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7086/7144620767_b32f2438d1_z.jpg

And just last weekend the family and I took a trip to Maryborough, and decided to drop in on the picturesque Princes Park Oval, complete with resplendent old stand. What interested me however was a plaque which mentioned that this stand was based on South Melbournre’s 1886 stand, precurser to Souths ‘current’ stand, before it burnt down in the 1920’s. What we also noticed were the surrounding street names….Clarendon, Napier, Raglan, Albert, Palmerston, Park…all names of well known South Melburne streets. Whether a coincidence or not, it certainly felt like a little bit of old Emerald Hill as we cruised down Clarendon Street Maryborough.

It’s often said that the coaches box can represent a game of chess, but at the old Lake Oval, you left your chess game at the entrance gate!

Make sure you check out Billy Millers wonderful videos on all the old VFL grounds.

http://www.bellestorie.com/aroundthegrounds/lakeside/video/lakesideoval_0.html

And a lovely little timelapse of the old footy come soccer ground becoming Victoria’s premier athletics track

http://youtu.be/ueC2tEygRnE

With a little help from my friends…

Football Grounds of Melbourne, Caruso, Fiddian and Main.
http://www.austadiums.com/
http://stats.rleague.com/afl/venues/lake_oval.html
http://www.majorprojects.vic.gov.au/