The fan - Hunter Davies detects empty seats at Premiership matches

Suddenly, empty seats are appearing at Premiership grounds

I'm keeping a close eye on Blackburn Rovers. For lots of reasons, but one in particular. I like the fact that they were founder members of the league in 1888. I like teams called Rovers, so reassuring. Always liked their traditional blue-and-white quartered shirts, not so keen on the modern version.

I look out to see if Matt Jansen is playing, as he comes from Carlisle and has asthma - two excellent reasons to follow him - and also Dwight Yorke, as I did his biog. I follow Souness, whom I first met in 1972, aged 17, in the reserves at Spurs. I gave him a lift home from training as he didn't have a car.

Ten years later, I interviewed him in Italy with Sampdoria. I walked round the block with him and his dog Cuddles, a Yorkshire terrier, and heard him shouting out loud: "Cuddles, come here." In Liverpool, where he'd been the great macho midfielder, Souness would never dare shout out his dog's name. Too embarrassing. See, there are advantages to moving abroad.

Blackburn also make me think of Alfred Wainwright, the great Lakeland walker and writer. He helped found Blackburn Rovers Supporters Club in the 1930s, acting as treasurer, then chairman. In 1940, he organised the supporters' trip to Wembley for the Cup Final. I suspect part of his passion for Rovers was to get out of the house, as his marriage had failed.

All fans have reasons, some of them trivial, some daft, for following another team's progress. But my main interest in Blackburn at present is in their attendance figures. Last year, they averaged more than 26,000. This year, they are down to 24,000. Not much of a difference, admittedly, but their capacity is 31,367. In recent games on TV, I've noticed rows of empty seats. The club is obviously very worried, exhorting local fans to support the team.

Today in the Premiership we have all-seater stadiums, and the majority of tickets are season tickets. This means that each June we all get conned into paying a fortune for the year ahead, without knowing who the club will buy or sell or how they might do. It is a worrying sign if several hundred fans refuse to turn up for their seats - which they have already paid for. Not to the clubs, as they've had the money and don't give a bugger, but for the season afterwards.

Blackburn has its special problems, because of its geography, condition of the ground, so perhaps their drop doesn't mean much. But Leeds's average gate is down by 3,000. Villa's by 1,500. Spurs's by 1,000. These are historically big clubs where you don't expect much fluctuation, unlike clubs that have come up and down, such as Leicester, Fulham and Blackburn.

It's nothing dramatic so far, and a run of good results could see those seats filled again, but I suspect quite a lot of those not going are deliberately throwing their money away - in disgust. It could be the first signs of a virus that might spread to other Premiership clubs.

For ten years now, football has boomed in the Premiership, with almost all season tickets being sold and long waiting lists at the top clubs. Despite the huge debts at many clubs, they have remained smug, self-satisfied, their chief executives paying themselves vast fortunes, telling themselves that at least the fans will always turn up, football will always be popular, forgetting that 20 years ago the game nearly died. In 1986, crowds dropped to 16 million - from 41 million in the postwar years.

This season, I have detected a bitterness, a resentment, among many fans of struggling or poorly performing clubs. Abuse has always been present, but now fans are turning nasty. When your club is doing well, the cost is irrelevant, millionaire players get applauded, flash directors are simply laughed at. But when things start going badly, those are the things that hurt, making fans feel cheated, taken advantage of. Love then turns to hate. Or am I misreading the signs? Hmm. Don't think I'll follow Blackburn any more . . .

The Fan by Hunter Davies, a selection of his NS football columns over the past seven years, is published by Pomona (338 pages, £9.99). Orders via

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