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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America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.