In case you missed it last week, Sky Sports had a rugby league takeover and showed wall-to-wall matches – including some retro games.
Amongst them was a Saturday night game between Widnes and Leeds, back in the club’s first Super League season in 2002.
Neil Kelly’s side blitzed the Rhinos and led 30-6 at one point, eventually winning 34-28 in a match I’ll always remember for Ben Walker missing a conversion for the visitors from bang in front of the posts.
One thing that caught my attention was commentator Eddie Hemmings making comments about the support, or rather lack of it.
He said: “It’s been a wonderful start to the season for Widnes, the only pity is that the Widnes supporters don’t seem to be coming out in their droves to support this team, which is amazing.
“They’ve waited for six years for the opportunity to get in to Super League and mix it with the big boys, and their more concerned with playing too many Saturday nights to use their own words.”
“They should be out here supporting in their thousands, this should be house full.”
Eddie’s sidekick Stevo agreed, with “especially the way they’re playing”.
It was interesting to see this thread created on the forum too about the “Widnes paying public”.
It was true that Widnes played a lot of Saturday night televised games that season, and with fans perhaps used to the Sunday afternoon slot, this was apparently used as an excuse for the low crowd numbers, not that I remember it that way.
This Round 15 win over Leeds was played in the middle of June in front of a crowd of 5,572.
The average crowd that year was 6,310, with the third round game against Bradford attracting 8,844 just a few weeks after the club’s first ever Super League game was played in front of 8,644.
That season average pretty much stayed the same in the following years, increasing to just shy of 6,500 in the relegation year of 2005.
Whether the way the club was treated ahead of the start of Super League in 1996, and of course the disappointment of the glory years being behind the club, had an impact on those figures is up for debate – and it never really changed in the second Super League era, where crowds were even lower, around the 5,700 mark.
Hemmings added: “It started on the very first night against St Helens, there was a hyge crowd, and everybody in the game is delighted Widnes are back amongst the league. There’s no dissenters from Sky Sports about that, they’ve added a freshness to the competition this year.
“This place should be full week in, week out. There’s a wonderful buzz about it here. They now have the stadium that match great teams of the 1980s/90s, now they have a team that’s making such an impact on Super League.
“We bring the big screen and razmatazz and people should get down and support this club. They’re raising the roof here.”
You never know what you’ve got til it’s gone, eh.
Oh how we wish we had that success and even those ‘lower’ figures. The way this team are playing and the knock effects of covid (people have lost interest or found they could do without Widnes games) I think it will be a long time before we even get over 3k to a game. Hope I’m proved wrong…