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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 October 2006, 07:52 GMT 08:52 UK
Is the Premiership a turn-off?
By Simon Austin

Former England winger Chris Waddle says a lack of entertainment is turning fans away from Premiership football.

Joe Cole
Rooney, Lennon, Wright-Phillips and Joe Cole are the only English players who can run with the ball and beat a man

Chris Waddle
Average attendances are down for 11 of the 20 teams in the league so far this season.

Blackburn dropped their prices to a flat-rate 15 for the 1-0 defeat by Bolton last weekend after seeing their attendances drop by about 20% over the last four seasons.

Waddle, who is a match summariser for BBC Radio Five Live, says he is not surprised.

"Manchester United and Arsenal are the only teams that I'd pay money to watch," he told BBC Sport.

"They are the two most exciting teams in the division and will always get full houses because of the football they play.

"Otherwise, the entertainment value is definitely going downhill. Chelsea have a lot of big-name players who attract crowds but I would not say they are the greatest team in the world to watch.

"They are efficient and professional but they do not get me on the edge of my seat. Liverpool have a similar philosophy - they aim to keep clean sheets and nick goals.

PREMIERSHIP CASE STUDIES
Blackburn: Average home attendance only 67.1% of capacity this season.
Wigan: Lowest average home attendance in the Premiership this season - 16,965. Down 17.68% from 2004/5.
Man City: Average attendance 40,294, down from 46,834 in first season at Eastlands.

"People have talked about Reading playing entertaining football this season but they are where they are through hard work and organisation.

"It costs a fortune to go and watch Premiership football and fans want to be entertained. Most of them are not getting that.

"The Premiership is not the best league in the world. The Spanish league is the best in Europe by far."

The average Premiership attendance fell every season from 2001/2 to 2004/5.

Six years ago it was 35,464. Last season it had dropped to 33,875.

That figure has risen to 34,084 so far this season, but the increase is almost solely down to Manchester United increasing their capacity from 68,174 to 75,828 and Arsenal moving to the Emirates Stadium, which has over 20,000 more seats than their former home at Highbury.

Waddle, who won 62 caps for England, says most Premiership managers are afraid to play attacking football and adopt a safety-first approach instead.

Chris Waddle
Waddle says most managers adopt a "safety-first" approach

"I am sure managers would like to sign more skilful players but it is a results business," added Waddle.

"Teams need to stay in the Premiership because that is where the money is. They play damage-limitation football that they think will get results.

"Going back 15 or 20 years, there was not so much money in the top division and it was not the be-all and end-all to be there.

"You could even get relegated and draw in the same crowds.

"It takes a brave manager to bring in flair players and most aren't willing to take the risk. It is far easier to buy someone who can stop people playing rather than someone who will excite the crowd.

"There are a lot of fit players who can pass the ball but few who excite you. There are a few players who can dribble and take a man on - Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Tomas Rosicky and Arjen Robben spring to mind - but they are becoming increasingly rare.

"That is why I've got a load of admiration for Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger. You see skill at Old Trafford and the Emirates Stadium that you do not see at any other grounds."

Waddle, who was the Football Writers' Association player of the year in 1993, says the lack of flair players in the Premiership is part of a deeper problem in the English game.

"Tell me the English players who can run with the ball and beat a man," he said.

"I can only think of Wayne Rooney, Aaron Lennon, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joe Cole. And when Cole loses the ball, Jose Mourinho tends to take him off.

AVERAGE PREMIERSHIP ATTENDANCES
2001/2: 35,464
2002/3: 34,984
2003/4: 33,894
2004/5: 33,875
2005/6: 34,084
"We have gone away from producing these types of players. We produce strong-running players who are neat passers.

"Flair players are increasingly regarded as luxuries. Junior football is about getting rid of the ball at the back and chasing it - physique rather than technique.

"I go and watch my son play youth football. If anyone gets the ball down and tries something and then loses the ball, the coach says 'do that again and you're off'."

Yet Premier League spokesman Dan Johnson denies that interest in Premiership football is on the wane.

"We have the highest occupancy levels at stadia of any league in Europe and the Premiership is the most watched league in the world," he told BBC Sport.

"It's also very early in the season to start talking about declining attendances - they always grow as the season progresses.

"On average, attendances are 90% of capacity and are up 65% since the start of the Premiership."



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