Friday, 10 March 2017

Following on from my extract from 'CROWDED HOUSES' (contain yourself, it won't be long now) on England's fourth tier, here's a look at fourth levels in other European countries.

Austria has nine Landesliga at this level, with one club from each gaining promotion. Brazil, with a population twenty-five times that of Austria and encompassing an area almost 100 times as large manages to get by with eight fourth-tier leagues!  The Austrian leagues vary significantly in attendance. In 2015-16 the averages ranged between 129 -147 with an overall figure of 270 compared to 230 the previous season and 270 in 2013-14. There are forty leagues at the fifth level where attendances are much lower still.

The Czech Republic has five leagues, two of which are in Moravia-Silesia for which no figures are available. In 2015-16 the three Bohemian leagues averaged 205, 184 and 162 respectively with an overall average of 183.

Unlike England Germany’s fourth level lies outside the official league structure though the five regional champions all qualify for a play-off spot (as does the runner-up in the Südwest region). There are then three straightforward two-leg ties with the winners gaining promotion and the bottom three in the 3. Liga relegated and placed in the appropriate region for the following season. While mainly part-time some of the bigger clubs operate on a full-time basis.

The play-offs draw some excellent attendances, 57,238 for an average of 9,548. Jahn Regensburg’s 2-0 win over Wolfsburg II (2-1 aggregate) was watched by 14,189 while Sportfreund Lotte’s 2-0 away win at Waldhof Mannheim (2-0 aggregate) drew an amazing crowd of 22,371.

Like Austria, Regionalliga figures vary substantially. In the Nord division the 2015-16 average was 199. SV Meppen were highest with 2,708 while Eintracht Braunschweig II had only 242, the lowest of any team in the regionalligas.

The Nordost contains several former East German sides including the former Dynamo Berlin, now BFC Dynamo. The favoured team of the Stasi quickly fell in popularity and status after reunification and have never played above the third tier, even on occasion dropping down to the fifth. These days they average just over 1,000.

Another famous name is the best supported club in this league. Carl Zeiss Jena, Cup-Winners’ Cup Finalists in 1981, averaged 3,531 in 2015-16. The divisional figure was 970 with Optik Rathenow lowest at 420.

The West Regionalliga also has a famous name from the past. Rot-Weiss Essen, the first German team to play in the European Cup – in its inaugural season, 1955-56 – now languish at this level but with an impressive average of 7,350. They were only second best supported however. In top place were Alemannia Aachen with 7,951 – highest of any club in the regionalligas. Lowest was Fortuna Dusseldorf II with 325 and the overall number was 1,523.

Another participant in the first European Cup plays in the Südwest. 1. FC Saarbrucken were the only team from the Saarland to play in Europe before it united with West Germany on New Year’s Day 1957. They were third best in the region with 2,950, way behind the also well-known Kickers Offenbach with 5,834 and top dogs Waldhof Mannheim with 6,539. Worst were Freiburg II with 360. Overall average was 1,704.

In Bayern Jahn Regensburg were way ahead of the pack with 6,557 – more than 5,000 ahead of any other club. SpVgg Greuther Fürth II were worst off with 270. The overall figure was 1,206. Jahn Regensburg’s promotion saw the Bavarian average drop to barely over 800 in 2016-17.
2008-09            1496    
2009-10            1364
2010-11            1242
2011-12            1279
2012-13            1022
2013-14            1139
2014-15             1324
2015-16            1233

Iceland’s 3. Deild was the lowest level in that country until reconstruction in 2013. In its first season after that crowds varied between 27 and 436 with an average of 79. Einherji’s 137 was best and KFR’s 38 worst.

Italy operated two regional Serie D fourth tiers until 2014 when reorganisation created three divisions in the Lega Pro, the successor to Serie C. The fourth tier is now outside the league structure and consists of 162 clubs in nine regional leagues. One promotion place is guaranteed in each division (though clubs can refuse to go up if they wish) with 2nd-5th in each entering play-offs but with no guarantee of promotion.
2001-02            1378    
2002-03            1999
2003-04            1220
2004-05            1109
2005-06            1197
2006-07            1277
2007-08            948
2008-09            954
2009-10            832
2010-11            748
2011-12            776
2012-13            767
2013-14             971
Figures for the current set-up are unavailable but will be much lower than those above. The old Serie D averages show that the decline in Italian crowds hasn’t been restricted to the upper echelons of the game. In its final season SPAL were best in Girone A with 3,160 and Real Vicenza worst with 138. In Girone B Cosenza were highest with 2,804 and Gavorrano lowest with 160.

There are eight regional divisions at the fourth level in Poland. So far, so simple, but one of the groups - opolsko-śląska - is subdivided. It has 24 teams, playing in two groups of twelve, then split into a further three groups of eight, with the totals then put together for a final tally. The other groups play a conventional season of meeting each other twice. All told, 149 teams played at this level in 2013-14, the latest season for which FULL attendance details are available, though partial figures for subsequent seasons show little if any change in the overall picture.

In order of averages high to low:
403 lubelsko-podkarpacka
298 małopolsko-świętokrzyska
263 dolnośląsko-lubuska
249 łódzko-mazowiecka
238 podlasko-warmińsko-mazurska
233 kujawsko-pomorsko-wielkopolska
227 opolsko-śląska
219 pomorsko-zachodniopomorska

Best supported clubs (in same divisional order as above). Highest in bold.
656 JKS 1909 Jaroslaw
586 Hutnik Nowa Huta (Kraków)
897 KS Stilon Gorzów Wielkopolski
763 Broń Radom
523 Sokół Ostróda
425 Polonia Środa Wielkopolska
458 Ruch Radzionków
540 Kotwica Kołobrzeg

The overall average was 279. The opolsko-śląska figure is for all matches in that set-up.

Scotland has operated a national fourth tier since 1994. In its early seasons it benefited from the presence of the well supported new league clubs from the Highlands, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Ross County. When Meadowbank Thistle transformed themselves into Livingston and moved to that town midway during 1995-96, that too boosted crowds. The fourth tier drew more support than the third that season.

The only other occasions when the normal pattern of crowds averaging between 450-550 was broken were when Morton dropped down to this level and in 2012-13 when Rangers began their climb back to the top and the division averaged ten times as many as usual. Obviously the average that year was well ahead of the third tier and was significantly higher than the second level as well.

The occupancy rate in 2015-16 was a mere 6.38%. This is dramatically affected through Queen’s Park (now in League One) playing at the 52,000 capacity Hampden Park. Without them the rate more than doubles to 13.42 %.

770 (17.04) Elgin City
657 (8.28) Clyde
651 (9.86) Arbroath
625 (31.57) East Fife
616 (16.18) Stirling Albion
601 (1.16) Queen’s Park
566 (17.19) Montrose
461 (11.27) Berwick Rangers
447 (17.85) Annan Athletic
371 (9.90) East Stirlingshire

1994-95            695      
1995-96            815
1996-97            791
1997-98            539
1998-99            498
1999-2000         448
2000-01            489
2001-02            503
2002-03            729
2003-04            464
2004-05            471
2005-06            446
2006-07            526
2007-08            480
2008-09            481
2009-10            465
2010-11            474
2011-12            476
2012-13            5571
2013-14            470
2014-15            510
2015-16            554

Slovakia has a population of around 5.5M (a little more than Scotland) and an area of under 20,000 sq. mi (about 60% of Scotland’s) yet until 2014 it had a fourth level of four regions and sixty-five clubs. That was on top of thirty-two at the third level. The Scottish equivalent would be to combine Leagues One and Two, then add seventy-seven non-league clubs to fill out the structure!

Not only that, two of the divisions were administered by one sub-federation and the other two by another. More confusingly, two divisions were labelled as III, one as IV and one geographically. Unsurprisingly, there was a major reconstruction in 2014-15. 

The combined 2013-14 average was 218 and regional numbers were (in order high to low):
297 ZsFZ III Liga (West)
244 IV. Liga Východ Dospelí VsFZ (East)
196 SsFZ III Liga (Centre)
144 Majstrovstvá regiónu - BFZ (Bratislava)
The highest club averages (in order of above regions with the best overall in bold):
894 Gabčíkovo
480 Snina
332 Javornik Makov
201 Rohoznik

The 2014-15 reorganisation saw forty clubs move to the reformatted third tier and the addition of almost 100 clubs to the new fourth level, split into eight divisions, all of which draw crowds much lower than the old scheme. The Slovak pyramid extends a further four tiers below that.

Sweden’s fourth tier Division 2 consists of six regional divisions of fourteen clubs each. The regional champions are promoted. The 2016 averages here are in order of high to low.
274 Norrland
234 Norra Götaland
228 Södra Götaland
206 Södra Svealand
205 Västra Götaland
194 Norra Svealand

The best supported clubs are in order of the above regions. Highest overall in bold
694 Sandvikkens
376 Vänersborgs
594 IFK Berga
382 Vimmerby
374 Vinbergs
492 FC Gute

The worst supported clubs are in order of the above regions. Lowest overall in bold
97 Ånge
89 Kortedala
77 BW 90
92 Huddinge
99 Sävedalens
89 Värmdö
2005-06            241      
2006-07            259
2007-08            243
2008-09            264
2009-10            240
2010-11            250
2011-12            206
2012-13            235
2013-14            213
2014-15             230
2015-16            224

After designating their top three levels as ‘Super,’ ‘Challenge’ and ‘Promotion,’ Switzerland’s adoption of misleading titles continues in the lower levels. The fourth rejoices in the appellation 1. Liga Classic but with its three regions identified more prosaically as Groups 1, 2 and 3 rather than the geographical terms of West, Central and East which, in numerical order, they represent. The top two from each plus the best two third-placed sides play-off for the two promotion places on offer. Unlike many other countries there is no play-off final. Once the final two are determined, that’s that. In 2015-16 the play-offs average was 824. The presence of a ‘big’ club can alter these figures radically. In 2014 with Neuchâtel Xamax involved the average was 1,720.

The 2015-16 averages at this level were:
244 Liga Classic Group 1
231 Liga Classic Group 2
265 Liga Classic Group 3

Forty-eight teams play across the three divisions (sixteen in each). SC Düdingen’s 436 was highest average in Group 1 with US Terre Sainte’s 85 the lowest of any fourth tier club. In Group 2 SR Delémont led the way with 333 and Thun’s U-21 team trailed the rest with 128. FC Baden had 443 – the highest of any club at this level – in Group 3 and Winterthur’s U-21 outfit were bottom of the heap with 154.
2012-13            201                 
2013-14            273
2014-15            218
2015-16            247

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