In May, Jordan Henderson’s last Liverpool game at Anfield drew 53,306.
696 people watched Al-Itifaq Al-Riyadh last Sunday.
Henderson has made nine appearances in the Saudi Pro League (SPL) since joining his new side in July. Although last weekend’s game in the Saudi capital was the lowest attendance ever, it was played in front of 976 people in a 3-1 win away to Abha last month.
Until now, the biggest SPL crowd to watch Steven Gerrard’s side wasn’t at Al Ahly last month, when 14,045 watched. Al Itifaq’s biggest home crowd was Henderson’s debut against Al Nasser at the Prince Mohammed bin Fahd Stadium in Dammam in August – 13,930 people watched.
Jordan Henderson’s SPL crowd sizes
Al Itifaq v Al Nasr
Al Itifaq v Al Khalij
Al Hilal v Al Itifaq
Al Itifaq v Damak
Abha v Al Itifaq
Al Itifaq v Al Tai
Al Ahli Al Itifaq
Al Itifaq v Al Fatih
Al Riyadh Al Itifaq
The total attendance for Henderson’s nine matches is 64,476 – not much more than the capacity at Anfield.
“80 percent of the country’s population now participates in football either by watching, playing or following it,” according to promotional materials released to international media ahead of the 2023-24 SPL season. But, despite some big-name recruits over the summer, that involvement hasn’t translated into full ranks.
Out of the 95 SPL matches for which attendances have been announced this season, 18 have had crowds of less than 1,000. That wasn’t limited to just two clubs – eight teams had fewer than four home fans.
The SPL’s smallest crowd this season was 133 when Al Riyadh lost 1-0 to Al Aqdud at Riyadh’s Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium on September 1, the same stadium where Henderson played last week.
It is the SPL club with the lowest average home attendance, 16th out of 18 in the table at the time of writing. Abha said the SPL’s four Public Investment Fund-owned clubs – Al Ahly, Al Hilal, Al Ittihad and Al Nasr – have no big-name foreigners hired this summer and average home attendances this season are 1,988. In the home game against Al-Riyad, 210 spectators reached Al-Wehda’s 661.
Most of the stars recruited to the SPL in the summer have so far avoided playing in front of fewer than 1,000 people, a turnout lower than last season’s National League average of 3,349 – the fifth highest in English football.
The smallest SPL crowd for current Ballon d’Or Karim Benzema’s new club Al Etihad was 4,149, when they played at Al Ryde earlier in the season, beating former Premier League stars N. Golo Kante and Fabinho were involved. Al Itad’s average home attendance this season is 25,658, the highest in the league, although there were only 12,113 fans at Al Hazem on Thursday.
SPL champions Al Ittihad had the second-highest average home attendance for a match, with 55,764 watching Al Ahli lose 1-0 at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium, north of Jeddah, on October 6. Playing for the opposition in that game were Roberto Firmino, Riyad Mahrez, Edouard Mendy and Alain Saint-Maximin.
Those were four summer signings for Al Ahly, all of whom were beaten 5-1 away to Al Fatih in front of 11,715, the smallest SPL side they have played in front of this season.
Al Hilal at home to Al Ahly was the third biggest SPL crowd this season, with 50,896 watching. The fourth largest SLL crowd was Al Ittihad with 23,742 people watching at Al Hilal.
The biggest SPL crowd this season was at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, with 59,600 in attendance, perhaps keen to see the pre-match unveiling of Al Hilal’s new signing Neymar before the team’s 1-1 draw with Al Fayha. Neymar did not play in that game.
Neymar’s first start for his new team came at Damac in front of 11,072 people. Alternates Kalidou Koulibaly, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ruben Neves played in Neymar’s 6-1 home win over Al-Riyadh in front of 15,373 spectators. Neymar’s only SPL game before the injury came in front of 14,769 people at the home of Al-Shabaab.
The smallest SPL crowd Cristiano Ronaldo has played in front of this season was away to Al Tai, where his side beat Al Nasr 2-1. Also playing for Al Nasr were Sadio Mane and Aymeric Laporte. The crowd on the day was 10,898, a far cry from what the former Premier League star was once used to.
Behind the scenes of the Saudi Pro League: what awaits stars like Neymar
(Top photo: Jordan Henderson, left, with his Al Itifaq teammates as they prepare to face Al Riyadh; Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images)