Building a fanbase: which football team is winning the housebuilding league?

Some footballers playing football. Image: Getty.

There are plenty of reasons to welcome new housing in our neighbourhood. It’s a fundamental human need, and one we’re uncomfortably short of.

But here’s one reason you may not have considered – more homes could be just what your local football club needs to gain an edge over its rivals.

So which football clubs have the fastest growing local population and future fanbase?

OK, so this is a silly-season joke, but it’s one with a grain of truth. On matchday, around 2.6 per cent of the population of England and Wales are at a football match. That means that, to fill one extra seat in a stadium, you need to build around 17 new homes in the local area.

Of course not everyone supports their local team, least of all people moving into a new area. But over generations even football loyalties can change, and a nearby club will always have a draw. Milton Keynes’ Stadium MK now gets crowds of up to 27,000 in what was a small village only 50 years ago.

The top clubs’ finances rely on international audiences and TV rights – but matchday fans, their loyalty and their spending, are also important. Outside the Premier League it is essential.

So, accept for a moment that in football “demographics is destiny”, and let’s look at the current winners and losers in the housebuilding league.

Click to expand.

The map above shows the 92 teams in the top four tiers English football, plus a few more who have been there in recent years. The country is divided up to show their nearest “catchment”. Reality of course is nothing like as neat – few in north Devon would see Swansea as their nearest club – but, well, lines have to go somewhere.

Let’s look at the Premier League first. The table below uses 2011 Census data and the change since 2001. Swansea tops the first column, for local population – it’s the nearest club for nearly a million people (though it’s helped in this analysis by the omission of the Welsh leagues), with Crystal Palace not far behind. At the other extreme, Burnley has only a quarter that number.

Looking at growth, London’s swelling population has helped Arsenal gain the most new locals – 89,000 new residents, which on average equates to 2,300 new season ticket holders. (I’ve used the location of the Emirates here, not taking account of the move from Highbury.)

Leicester too has been propelled on its way by an additional 83,000 new locals. And the 90,000 new homes Leicestershire projects it needs over the next 25 years equate to an extra 5,300 new season tickets sold. Everton, by contrast, is the only club in the Premier League to have lost locals.

Looking beyond the top division, recently-relegated Newcastle can console themselves having the highest local population in English Football (although that’s partly because Berwick Rangers is missing from the analysis, as they play in the Scottish Leagues). More worryingly, the North East’s relatively low population growth is doing little to help Newcastle return to the top flight.

Cardiff can, in this respect at least, claim bragging rights over Swansea, and has a higher population growth rate too: the city’s 40,000 planned new homes over 10 years should mean 2,350 new season tickets.

Seven of the top ten fastest-growing football catchments are in London, with Millwall and Brentford topping the list. Both have gained over a hundred thousand new locals, and the next London Plan may need to boost them further with new housing growth targets.

At the bottom, Hartlepool’s local territory is squeezed between Middlesbrough, Darlington and Sunderland, although Everton’s back yard has still lost the most people – 3,700 fewer residents equates to 95 empty seats.


So could different local attitudes to housebuilding affect the long-term future of any big football rivalries? Manchester United and City both have fast growth, but City has added most locals, thanks to its proximity to the fast-growing city centre. Liverpool’s local population was still larger than either at the time of the Census, although slower growth means it may already have fallen behind Manchester United.

On the south coast, Southampton, Bournemouth and Portsmouth have quite evenly matched local catchments, although faster growth has seen Pompey just pull ahead. In the Second City Derby, Birmingham City has a clear and growing lead over Aston Villa (at least in terms of demographics).

In London, Arsenal and Tottenham are very closely matched for population. Islington’s growth means Arsenal is edging ahead, although the 20,000 homes planned for the Upper Lea Valley Opportunity Area could help fill over a thousand of the seats in the Tottenham’s new stadium.

The analysis here isn’t serious – but the difficulties overcoming opposition to new housing really is. One of the biggest barriers is people’s natural suspicion of change, and of new people coming to their neighbourhood. We need to overcome that fear, and persuade people that people are a good thing, by showing them the benefits.

A bigger fanbase for their local club is just the start: many other local facilities and services benefit from more people, not to mention businesses that rely on the local labour market. From struggling local shops to infrequent bus services and underfunded council services, the best way to keep communities sustainable will often be new housing and new neighbours.

Barney Stringer is a director at regeneration consultancy Quod. This article was originally posted on his blog.

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Mayor Marvin Rees' hope for Bristol: A more equitable city that can 'live with difference'

“I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city," Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees says. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

When the statue of 18th century slave trader Edward Colston was torn from its plinth and dumped in Bristol’s harbour during the city’s Black Lives Matter protests on 7 June, mayor Marvin Rees was thrust into the spotlight. 

Refraining from direct support of the statue’s removal, the city’s first black mayor shared a different perspective on what UK home secretary Priti Patel called “sheer vandalism”:

“It is important to listen to those who found the statue to represent an affront to humanity,” he said in a statement at the time. “I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city and wherever we see it.”

48 year-old Rees, who grew up in the city, has since expanded on his approach to the issue in an interview with CityMetric, saying “wherever you stand on that spectrum, the city needs to be a home for all of those people with all of those perspectives, even if you disagree with them.”

“We need to have the ability to live with difference, and that is the ethnic difference, racial difference, gender difference, but also different political perspectives,” he added. “I have been making that point repeatedly – and I hope that by making it, it becomes real.” 


What making that point means, in practice, for Rees is perhaps best illustrated by his approach to city governance.

Weeks after the toppling of Colston’s statue, a new installation was erected at the same spot featuring Jen Reid, a protester of Black Lives Matter. However, the installation was removed, as “it was the work and decision of a London-based artist, and it was not requested and permission was not given for it to be installed”, Rees said in a statement.

Bristol may appear a prosperous city, logging the highest employment rate among the UK’s “core cities” in the second quarter of 2019. But it is still home to many areas that suffer from social and economic problems: over 70,000 people, about 15 percent of Bristol’s population, live in what are considered the top 10 percent most disadvantaged areas in England. 

In an attempt to combat this inequality, Rees has been involved in a number of projects. He has established Bristol Works, where more than 3,000 young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are given work experience opportunities. And is now setting up a commission on social mobility. “Launching a Bristol commission on social mobility is not only about social justice; it [should not be] possible for a modern city to leave millions of pounds worth of talent on the shelf, just because the talent was born into poverty,” he says.

The mayor is also a strong supporter of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), explaining that SDGs offer a way to talk about sustainability within a framework of many issues, ranging from climate change and biodiversity to women’s issues, domestic violence, poverty and hunger.

“What we want to achieve as a city cannot be done as a city working alone,” he insists. “We don’t want to benefit only people inside Bristol, we want to benefit the planet, and the SDGs offer a framework for a global conversation,” suggesting that a vehicle should be launched that allows cities to work together, ideally with organisations such as the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund involved. 

Greater collaboration between cities would be “beneficial in terms of economies of scale,” he argues, “as cities could get more competitive prices when buying materials for building houses or ordering buses, rather than each city acquiring a few of them at a higher price.”

In an attempt to focus on the long term, Rees launched One City Plan in January 2019, setting out a number of goals for Bristol to achieve by 2050.

Investing in green infrastructure to meet 2030 carbon emission targets spelled out in the SDGs is a key area here, with the mayor noting that transport, mass transit and energy are important sectors looking for further investment and government funding: “The sooner we meet our targets, the sooner we will benefit from them, and invest in sectors that will provide people with jobs.”

Jobs, especially following the outbreak of Covid-19, are of paramount importance to Rees. Bristol’s council wants to ensure that any government money given to the city will be quickly passed on to businesses to help prevent redundancies, he says, though given that mass job losses seem inevitable, reskilling options are also being looked into, such as through a zero-carbon smart energy project called City Leap.

Another important area for investment in Bristol is affordable housing, with 9,000 homes already built under Rees’s term of office. “People could build a base for life with affordable housing, [and this would mean] their mental health would be better because they have a safe place,” he explains. “Children in families that have a home that is affordable are more likely to able to eat and to heat, [and they are more likely to enjoy a] better education.”

Taken in the round, Rees’s agenda for Bristol is its own blueprint for shaping history. The Colston statue now lies in safe storage, with a local museum likely to play host to the controversial monument. But the Black Lives Matters protestors were fighting for a fairer, more equal future, and it is here where Rees is determined to deliver.

Sofia Karadima is a senior editor at NS Media Group.