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What can we learn from the NSL's winter crowds?

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Roar Rookie
2nd July, 2021

There is nothing new under the sun.

Gather around the camp fire and let’s talk of the elders of the yesteryear.

The NSL was actually founded as a winter league in 1977. Up until 1989 most kick-offs were in March and then tailed off to February and January.

I went through every game in every round to manually calculate the averages from here.

Year Average Highest Lowest Teams
1977 3955 15,000 300 14
1978 4720 18,000 330 14
1979 4258 18,376 500 14
1980 3676 15,000 800 14
1981 3838 12,500 1000 16
1982 3260 12,186 400 16
1983 2683 16,000 150 16
1984 2254 12,000 150 24
1985 2178 14,220 100 24
1986 2741 14,032 236 24
1987 3037 9000 400 13
1988 2753 8014 212 14
1989 3084 9000 400 14

Per OzFootball: “In 1984, the National League has introduced a new, revolutionary championship format with a twofold aim: to reduce the expensive interstate travel costs and to increase the “local derby” content. (The conference system finished in 1986). At first sight the format looks complicated, so below is a full and detailed explanation of the system. The greatest beneficiaries of the reduced travel plan are the Melbourne clubs: in 1983 they had to travel 12 times interstate and this year they will make only four trips. Sydney teams will cut their travelling time from 11 trips to three, Adelaide from 14 to nine, Canberra from 15 to 11. To these, however, you must add the occasional extra trips for inter-conference matches.”

Australian conference

Section A
Blacktown City
Parramatta Melita Eagles
Penrith City
St George
Sydney Olympic
Sydney Croatia
Sydney City
Wollongong City

Section B
Canberra Arrows
Newcastle United

Football generic

(Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

National conference

Section A
Brunswick United-Juventus
Green Gully
Heidelberg United
Melbourne Croatia
South Melbourne
Sunshine-George Cross

Section B
Adelaide City
West Adelaide

Section C
Brisbane City
Brisbane Lions

So what can we learn from this?

The NSL’s peak number of teams was 24. This is much higher and more inclusive than the A-League.

But it also resulted in the lowest turn-outs so a conference system does not work.


The lowest attendances were almost the same for the same teams so I can see why the FA wanted to take away licenses in the A-League for attendance.

The highest attendance was usually in the finals system, so the finals work.

The A-League’s lowest average attendance was been higher than any season of the 1977 to 1989 NSL.

Do these numbers seem like a good predictor of the upcoming national second division?

Maybe, but I would hazard a guess that they may be a bit lower as a lot of people now support A-League teams and have moved away from the old-school NSL mentality for better or worse.


Does this mean that summer football works? Brace yourselves, the next article is coming…