LONDON • The emergence of "a new generation" of fans has put English football on its way to a record-breaking season.
Across all four divisions - Premier League, Championship and Leagues One and Two - the average crowd is on course to exceed 15,000 for the first time in more than 50 years.
The biggest rise is in the second-tier Championship, where crowds are at their largest since 1954, partly because so many "big" clubs are in the division this season.
Another factor, say club officials, is the number of children being attracted to their local teams rather than supporting a glamorous Premier League side.
Today two former European champions, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa, play each other in a second-tier fixture. When they met in September, it was the first time two former European champions from the same country had met outside the top flight.
Of the 24 Championship clubs, 15 have competed in European football, and the best-supported of them, Newcastle, are attracting more than 51,000 to home games.
Even without Newcastle's remarkable support, Championship crowds are significantly higher than last season.
The latest figures are 19,876 in the Championship, up 13 per cent on last season. Leagues One and Two are also heading for an increase on last season.
"We have created a new generation of football supporters," said Paul Barber, a director of the English Football League and chief executive of Brighton & Hove Albion, one of the favourites for promotion to the Premier League for the first time. The average attendance at their stadium, opened in 2011, is more than 27,000.
Barber, who had senior roles at the Football Association and Tottenham Hotspur before taking charge at Brighton, said: "The way fans are treated now is better than ever - the way clubs respond to them, engage with them. The number of under-18s watching is rapidly growing."