LONDON: Leeds United, who were Champions League semi-finalists just four years ago, confronted the stark reality of life in the second tier of English football when over 20,000 fans stayed away from their opening game of the season on Sunday.
Leeds beat Millwall 2-1 at Elland Road, thanks to a brace from new signing David Healy, to kick-off their second successive season in the Second Division, but just 20,440 spectators turned up at the 40,000-capacity stadium.
Thats despite last seasons home average of 29,206.
Leeds coach Kevin Blackwell believes live TV coverage of the match, the Ashes Test cricket series as well as the summer vacation contributed to the poor turn-out.
We had an open day last week and there was thousands here. I was saying see you next week but everyone said they were on holiday because I think its Leeds main holiday week, said Blackwell
Its early in the season and a lot of crowds were down on Saturday. All we can do is play football. This is a massively-supported club and it will be - its a long old season.
Only last week, the Football League, who run the competition, boasted that the Second Division is the fourth best-attended division in Europe behind the Premier League, German Bundesliga and Spains La Liga but ahead, incredibly, of Italys Serie A.
On Saturday, Crystal Palace, relegated from the Premier League last season, were beaten 2-1 at home by Luton, who were promoted from the Third Division.
Norwich, who were also relegated, were held 1-1 by Coventry at Carrow Road while the third team demoted, Southampton, played out a goalless stalemate at home to Wolves.
Sheffield United are the early leaders on goal difference thanks to a 4-1 win against Leicester while Ipswich, who were third last season but lost the play-off final to West Ham, enjoyed an opening day 1-0 win at home over Cardiff City. AFP