Opening day of the FAWNL season shows encouraging signs of growth in the stands

Photo: Chris Vaughan | Lincoln City

Domestic football returned with a bang at the weekend, with relentless action on the pitch and encouraging signs of growth in the stands.

There were some encouraging signs of growth in the stands as fans embraced the #FAWNLBigKickOff22 and the 2022/23 Women’s National League season got underway.

While percentages naturally varied from club to club and there were some exceptions, the general trajectory was upward as all six divisions across the third and fourth tiers reported an overall increase in attendances compared to last season’s opener, bolstered by some stellar individual attendances.

Derby County drew the largest crowd of the weekend across the third tier as 523 fans were on hand to watch Burnley come from behind to beat the Ewe Rams at the Mickleover Sports Club — an incredible 125% increase on County’s first home game of the 2021/22 season and a whopping 332% increase on the corresponding fixture last term.

There was also a club-record crowd to cheer on Liverpool Feds in their debut outing in the third tier, as 180 fans gathered to witness Abby Pope cancel out an early Wolves goal to hold the champions to a draw.

Meanwhile, in the Southern Premier Division, clubs reported an overall increase of thirty-nine percent, despite playing a game less than a year ago, with 1486 fans through the turnstiles compared to 1071 in 2021/22 – an average gate of 248 compared to 153 – with Ipswich Town and Oxford United reporting huge increases of 93% and 70% respectively, compared to their first home games of the 2021/22 season.

Lincoln City led the way in the fourth tier with a club-record attendance of 1,003 recorded at the LNER Stadium against Doncaster Rovers Belles — a figure over four times the combined total of every Division One Midlands #FAWNLBigKickOff21 match.

Predictably, U’s fans flocked to The Abbey Stadium once again to back Cambridge United in large numbers for their Division One South East encounter with Norwich City, while newcomers Northampton Town, Leeds United, Exeter City, and Norton & Stockton Ancients were among other sides that also reported good-sized crowds in FAWNL Division One.

In total, there were a reported 7,065 supporters in attendance to usher in the new season across 32 games with an average crowd of 221 fans per game — a ninty-one percent increase on last season’s reported average of 116.

There are a few nuances to consider, such as two ‘showcase’ games being held in men’s home stadiums this season – but even if you exclude those numbers entirely, it doesn’t affect the upward trend across the Women’s National League as a whole.

All in all, Sunday should be considered an encouraging first sign of how the Lionesses’ legacy may impact the domestic game in the stands in the short and, hopefully, long term as clubs look to harness the wave of increased interest generated by the success of the European Championships into sustained growth.

How Sunday’s average attendances look broken down by Division:

Northern Premier Division
Opening day 2022/23: 306
Opening day 2021/22: 189
Increase: 61.9%

Southern Premier Division
Opening day 2022/23: 248
Opening day 2021/22: 153
Increase: 62.1%

Division One North
Opening day 2022/23: 142
Opening day 2021/22: 88
Increase: 61.4%

Division One Midlands
Opening day 2022/23: 249
Opening day 2021/22: 49
Difference: 408.1%

Division One South East
Opening day 2022/23: 232
Opening day 2021/22: 98
Difference: 136.7%

Division One South West
Opening day 2022/23: 123
Opening day 2021/22: 81
Difference: 51.9%

It should be noted that the data is incomplete and that at the time of writing Bradford City haven’t reported their attendance figure from the weekend. Similarly, two clubs (QPR and Cheltenham) didn’t report their figures for the opening day of last season either. As such, they have all been excluded from any calculations, such as average attendances.

The article will be updated if any new information becomes available.