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EPL clubs are averaging 35,713 fans per game through Feb. 26, up 4% compared to the same point last season. Everton, which currently sits sixth in the standings, is seeing the league's biggest jump at the gate (+11%). Wigan Athletic, Queens Park Rangers and Sunderland are also seeing strong gains this season to date. Despite Wigan's gains, the club is the only EPL club with home capacity under 75%. Aston Villa, which is currently facing relegation next season, is seeing the sharpest drop among EPL clubs (-2%). Listed below is club-by-club attendance for the EPL to date, with comparisons to the same period last season (THE DAILY).
EPL ATTENDANCE THROUGH FEB. 26
CLUBGMSTOTALAVG.% CAP.PREV.% +/-'11-12 GMS ManU13981,70875,51699.7%75,3480.2%13 Arsenal14841,07860,07799.5%59,9450.2%12 Newcastle14700,21050,01595.4%48,9242.2%12 Manchester City13610,80546,98599.1%47,043-0.1%12 Liverpool14625,66044,69098.7%44,811-0.3%12 Chelsea13537,94041,38099.0%41,641-0.6%12 Sunderland13523,91340,30182.7%38,4614.8%13 Everton13476,09936,62392.6%33,10110.6%13 Tottenham Hotspur13467,81835,98699.2%36,072-0.2%13 West Ham United*14485,53434,68199.0%n/an/an/a Aston Villa13435,76033,52078.3%34,273-2.2%13 Southampton*13395,55130,42793.1%n/an/an/a Stoke City13349,19326,86196.8%27,233-1.4%12 Norwich City14373,46426,67698.0%26,4340.9%12 Fulham14356,94425,49699.2%25,2371.0%13 West Bromwich14352,99625,21495.3%24,5582.7%12 Reading*14334,78223,91398.8%n/an/an/a Swansea City13264,27720,32998.0%19,9302.0%13 Wigan Athletic13243,06118,69774.4%17,5826.3%12 Queens Park Rangers14250,12417,86696.9%16,9675.3%12 TOTALS2699,606,91735,71394.7%34,3184.1%267
NOTES: EPL average for last season includes Blackburn, Bolton and Wolverhampton, who were relegated. * = Played in lower level Championship League last year.
The FA will consider "taking retrospective action against players guilty of diving in an attempt to push simulation and exaggeration out of the game," according to Paul Kelso of the London TELEGRAPH. Diving has been a "recurrent theme in recent seasons." The issue is of increasing concern to referees and the professional leagues, "who are conscious that it damages the game’s reputation." But the possibility of taking retrospective action "has always been resisted because of fears it would lead to 're-refereeing' of matches." FA Dir of Governance and Regulation Dan Bailey said he would consider a “regulatory response” to diving if it received the backing of the whole game. Bailey: "We are keeping a very close eye on simulation and exaggeration. What we would like to see is collectively the game as a whole taking responsibility for getting rid of that. We would like to see the managers and players say ‘this is not acceptable’, and see it squeezed out that way. But if it gets to the stage where it is not [dealt with] we have made it fairly clear we will need to consider a regulatory intervention, and that will have to be at a fairly high level” (TELEGRAPH, 2/26).
English cricket bosses "are planning to step up testing for recreational drugs following the death of Tom Maynard," according to Sam Sheringham of the BBC. Post-mortem examination evidence presented at an inquest revealed that the Surrey batsman "was high on cocaine and ecstasy when he was electrocuted before being hit by a train last June." Speaking after a jury at Westminster Coroner's Court returned a verdict of accidental death, coroner Dr. Fiona Wilcox "urged cricket and other sports to introduce hair testing to determine long-term drug habits." The England & Wales Cricket Board and Professional Cricketers' Association "have recently agreed to develop an out-of-competition testing programme to encompass recreational drugs." Both bodies "are holding talks aimed at introducing more testing of hair samples, which can reveal whether players have used recreational drugs in the previous three months." This would follow the example of the Football Association and Rugby Football Union" (BBC, 2/26). WALES ONLINE reported the ECB "is stepping up attempts to discourage cricketers from using recreational drugs." An ECB statement said: "While the ECB accepts that recreational drug use is a part of modern society, we do not condone it and will take all reasonable steps to prevent its use within the game" (WALES ONLINE, 2/27).
MORE TESTING: In London, Andy Wilson reported county cricketers "will be tested more regularly for recreational drugs." The ECB has previously tested for recreational drugs only "in competition" -- between 6am on the first day of a match until an hour after its completion -- with its "out-of-competition testing" only for performance-enhancing drugs, compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency code. But the Maynard case "has stiffened the determination" of both the ECB and the PCA to go beyond the WADA code "in order to protect the players themselves, rather than to prevent them cheating." It is understood that "any player found to have taken a recreational drug would be offered counselling and support in the first instance, with suspensions only applied to repeat offenders" (GUARDIAN, 2/26). In Sydney, Nick Hoult reported after Maynard's death Surrey "conducted an internal investigation," led by the club CEO Richard Gould, and overseen by board members Anthony Grabiner QC and Robert Elliott. They concluded the club "did not have a widespread drug problem" and, according to sources, narrowed its findings to a small "cabal" of players who were socialising too much. But the report concluded that "the club needs stronger players in leadership positions" -- Graeme Smith and Ricky Ponting have been signed for this season -- coaches "will be given more training to spot the symptoms of alcohol or drug use, there will be the adoption of a drugs and alcohol policy across the club and more comprehensive social drug testing policy out of competition" (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 2/27).
CAPTAIN CONCERNED: SPORTINGLIFE reported former England captain Michael Vaughan "has voiced concerns there could be more players who use recreational drugs but hopes this case will act as a deterrent." PCA CEO Angus Porter does not doubt Vaughan but believes that "any problems are more reflective of wider society than anything specific to cricket." Porter said, "We had an early warning of what the pathologist's findings were, so in that sense it wasn't a complete surprise, but we didn't know any of the detail" (SPORTINGLIFE, 2/27). The BBC reported England batsman Ian Bell "is backing plans to increase drug testing" in the wake of Maynard's death. Bell said, "I would welcome testing for recreational drugs. Other sports are doing it, so why not? It is important that whatever is put in place... what has happened, never happens again" (BBC, 2/27). In London, Mike Atherton reported despite certain other players "professing ignorance of drug taking during the hearing, it is highly unlikely that Maynard was the only user of recreational drugs in the county game." And that, of course, will give the PCA "the greatest cause for concern." The "only answer is education: at home, at school and in professional environments." For county clubs and the PCA, "education on a whole raft of issues is vital" (LONDON TIMES, 2/27).
Premiership rugby side London Welsh, which was promoted to the league last season in controversial circumstances, could see its "supremely courageous bid to retain top-flight status scuppered by a red-tape wrangle" involving the scrum-half Tyson Keats and the former Team Manager Mike Scott, according to Chris Hewett of the London INDEPENDENT. The Exiles "will appear before a Rugby Football Union competitions tribunal next week and if, as expected, they have league points deducted, they will find themselves up to their eyeballs in the relegation mire." Keats, a New Zealander, is said "to have played nine games without proper registration," and even though he has now been re-registered correctly, the panel, including the Premier Rugby CEO Mark McCafferty, is "likely to take a dim view of the affair." London Welsh CEO Tony Copsey said Monday night that "the club itself alerted the governing body to the issue after an internal investigation." He said it was "a serious matter", and that he and his colleagues were cooperating fully. He also stressed that Keats "was in no way to blame" (INDEPENDENT, 2/26).