COOKIE CONSENT
Create
Notifications
Favorites Edit

Size (and what you do with it)

UnitedRant
FEATURED WRITER
642   //    31 Dec 2012, 00:10 IST

Sir Alex Ferguson has been in fine form of late, first fearing, quite preposterously, for Robin van Persie’s life, and then deriding 120-year-old Newcastle United as “a wee club in the north-east.” Quite a put-down for the four-times champions of England that attracts regular crowds in excess of 50,000. But Ferguson’s jibe, provoked by manager Alan Pardew’s sanctimonious criticism, raises an interesting question: what exactly determines the ‘size’ of a football club in the modern game?

Ferguson’s wisecrack comes with the inherent backdrop of Manchester United’s grandiose. Indeed, United is self-styled as the world’s biggest, with management often touting a flawed Kantar survey that estimates the club has more than 690 million “followers” worldwide – a figure far in excess of rival institutions, domestically and abroad.

The Kantar survey, which includes any ‘fan’ who looks out for United’s results and news even if they follow another team, was conducted ahead of United’s New York IPO last summer. Previous surveys had put United’s supporters at more than 330 million, but either way, the club can boast a genuinely huge global supporter base.

Still, the Reds’ average home attendance is also among the globe’s largest, with more than 75,000 packing Old Trafford each week despite steep price rises under the Glazer regime between 2005 and 2010. In Europe, only Barcelona at 84,119 and Borussia Dortmund, with 80,521 packing Westfalenstadion each week, can better United’s figure. It is not without reason to suspect that United supporters would fill a substantially larger stadium if prices were more in line with continental rivals.

Meanwhile, Newcastle can boast average gates of just under 50,000 in the Premier League, up from a historic low of 16,000 in 1991. It makes the Magpies England’s fifth best supported club, and the 15th biggest in European football.

Then there is the silverware factor, with United boasting 19 domestic league titles, 15 further English cups and seven major continental or international trophies. Real Madrid, by contrast, has claimed La Liga 32 times, Rangers 54 Scottish titles and Juventus 28 Serie A trophies. Borussia Dortmund, with those huge attendances, has won the Bundesliga just eight times, including those in the past two seasons.

The contrast between the biggest and that “wee club” Newcastle is stark, with the Geordies having claimed England’s top division on just four occasions – the last in 1927 – a further six FA Cups and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1969. The haul still places Newcastle among the top 10 most successful clubs in English history. English champions Manchester City can claim to be England’s finest on just three occasions, including last season’s last-gasp victory.

Yet, the modern game is built above all on finances and the attendant ability to compete in the transfer market. City’s rise has come since Abu Dhabi’s Royal Family pumped in more than £1 billion of sovereign wealth into the club. Meanwhile, Roman Abramovich has financed Chelsea to 11 major trophies in the past decade.

Neither City nor Chelsea can match the world’s top three revenue generating clubs: Real Madrid (annual revenues £420 million), Barcelona (£407 million) and United (£320 million). City’s annual revenue was last reported at £254 million, Chelsea’s at £255 million and Newcastle’s at £88 million.

Yet, for all that revenue generated, United’s debt pile means that the club has consistently posted losses since the Glazer family acquired the club in 2005. Chelsea has only recently recorded a profit under Abramovich, and City has posted cumulative losses of  £510.9 million in the past four years. Meanwhile, owner Mike Ashley has steered a listing Newcastle United to safer financial ground in recent years.

Indeed, only an elite set of clubs – United included – can claim the triumvirate of large revenues, a huge fanbase and a history of consistent silverware. Real Madrid and Barcelona are similarly well-endowed, while there are merits to including Bayern Munich, AC Milan, Juventus, Ajax, Arsenal, Liverpool in any list of the world’s biggest.

Yet, there is something else that determines a club’s size; a certain je ne sais quoi that surely includes ‘history’ in the mix even if a club has fallen on hard times. There are plenty of clubs for whom success has been ephemeral, but might rank more highly than Newcastle in a subjective list of England’s biggest – twice European champions Nottingham Forest, Football League founding member Aston Villa, and three-times England’s best Leeds United, for example.

In fact, some of Europe’s biggest match few of the aforementioned criteria. Liverpool, well behind United, Real Madrid and Barcelona in terms of revenues generated, and attendances achieved, can still boast a global supporter base built on years of success in the 1970s and 80s. Meanwhile, Juventus – Serie A champions in 2011 and 2012 – fills its compact new stadium, built to a 40,000 capacity based on the Old Lady’s historic attendances.

Few doubt either club’s right to ‘big club’ status. It’s that ineffable thing again.

European Attendance Top 20 (2011/12 average)
1 – FC Barcelona – 84,119 – Camp Nou
2 – Borussia Dortmund – 80,521 – Westfalenstadion
3 – Manchester United – 75,387 – 2011–12 Old Trafford
4 – Real Madrid – 74,678 – Santiago Bernabéu
5 – Bayern Munich – 69,000 – Allianz Arena
6 – Schalke 04 – 61,139 – Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen
7 – Arsenal – 60,000 – Emirates Stadium
8 – VfB Stuttgart – 55,089 – Mercedes-Benz Arena
9 – Hertha Berlin – 54,259 – Olympiastadion
10 – Hamburger SV – 53,635 – Imtech Arena
11 – Borussia Mönchengladbach – 51,846 – Borussia-Park
12 – Milan – 51,442 – San Siro
13 – Celtic – 50,904 – Celtic Park
14 – Ajax – 50,044 – Amsterdam ArenA
15 – Newcastle United – 49,935 – St James’ Park
16 – Internazionale – 47,913 – San Siro
17 – FC Köln – 47,647 – RheinEnergieStadion
18 – Manchester City – 47,044 – Etihad Stadium
19 – Rangers – 46,324 – Ibrox Stadium
20 – Napoli – 45,789 – Stadio San Paolo

Deloittle Money League 2012 (€millions)
1 – Real Madrid – 479.5
2 – Barcelona – 450.7
3 – Manchester United – 367.0
4 – Bayern Munich – 321.4
5 – Arsenal – 251.1
6 – Chelsea – 249.8
7 – Milan 235.1
8 – Internazionale – 211.4
9 – Liverpool – 203.3
10 – Schalke 04 – 202.4
11 – Tottenham Hotspur – 181.0
12 – Manchester City – 169.6
13 – Juventus – 153.9
14 – Marseille – 150.4
15 – Roma – 143.5
16 – Borussia Dortmund – 138.5
17 – Lyon – 132.8
18 – Hamburg – 128.8
19 – Valencia – 116.8
20 – Napoli – 114.9

* 2012 money league, some clubs have more recently reported financial information

England’s most successful clubs (number of major trophies won)
1 – Liverpool – 41
2 – Manchester United – 40
3 – Arsenal – 26
4 – Aston Villa – 20
5 – Chelsea – 18
6 – Tottenham Hotspur – 17
7 – Everton – 1995
8 – Newcastle United – 11
8 – Manchester City – 11
10 – Blackburn Rovers – 10
11 – Wolverhampton Wanderers – 9
11 – Nottingham Forest – 9
13 – Sunderland – 8
13 – Sheffield Wednesday – 8
15 – Leeds United – 7
15 – West Bromwich Albion – 7
17 – Sheffield United – 5
17 – Wanderers – 5*
19 – Bolton Wanderers – 4
19 – Huddersfield Town – 4
19 – Portsmouth – 4
19 – Preston North End – 4
19 – West Ham United – 4

* now defunct
Does not include Charity/Community Shield

Topics you might be interested in:
UnitedRant
FEATURED WRITER
United Rant is the original destination for irreverent analysis of the latest Manchester United debate. Online since 2004, United Rant remains and independent and sometimes critical voice.
Fetching more content...