So why are Norwich City’s season ticket sales soaring so high?

Prices are going up and the financial times are getting tougher. But Norwich City's fans have bought a record number of season tickets for next year's campaign. STEVE DOWNES asks how this phenomenal effort has been achieved.

For many Norwich City fans, the late 1980s and early 1990s was the golden era to support the Canaries.

With third, fourth and fifth-placed finishes in the top flight, two FA Cup semi finals and a run to the third round of the Uefa Cup, City were regularly leaving the big boys with a bloody nose.

With the introduction of the Premier League attracting a galaxy of world stars, and the Canaries boasting heroes including Chris Sutton, Ruel Fox, Jeremy Goss and Bryan Gunn, surely Carrow Road was regularly displaying 'sold out' signs?

For the answer, compare the following.

? On September 15 1993, Norwich City hosted Vitesse Arnhem for their first ever European fixture. The excitement was tremendous, the result was a 3-0 home win, the attendance was an underwhelming 16,818

? On February 22 2011, Norwich City hosted mid-table Doncaster Rovers for a Championship fixture. Despite the relatively humble opposition, the attendance was 25,529.

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For an even more effective comparison, take season ticket sales.

In the year that Norwich were relegated from the Premier League for the first time, 1994-5, there were 8,800 season ticket holders. Fifteen years later, facing the prospect of the club's first season in the third flight for five decades, 19,671 season tickets were sold.

This year, admittedly with fans daring to dream about a return to the Premier League next season, sales have reached a new record high of 21,063.

So how on Earth has the remarkable increase occurred?

Much of the credit has to go to the sales and marketing staff at Carrow Road, who have done so much to make a day out at Carrow Road seem attractive.

And, lest he be forgotten, honourable mention must go to Andrew Cullen, the marketing chief who left for pastures new a few years ago.

Cullen's creativity drove up attendances during what was a particularly uneventful period of the Canaries' history. While the team scratched around in the lower reaches of the Championship, Cullen and his team were attracting a new generation of followers by making some games into 'kids for a quid'.

The deal meant thousands of children tasted live football for the first time. And we all know how the first experience is a crucial factor in picking your favourite team.

Those 'kids' are now the young adults who are season ticket holders in their own right. That first meeting became lifelong love.

Meanwhile, the management and players were regularly rolled out for fans' forum events and other opportunities to meet the supporters. Although a gradual process, it narrowed the gap between fan and footballer, and made the supporters feel much more a part of the club.

And the introduction of interest-free, staged payments for season tickets must have made a big difference to people who could not afford to pay up front.

Alan Switzer, director in the Deloitte sports business group, highlighted a 'combination of factors'.

He said: 'They are doing well on the pitch, with a realistic chance of Premiership football, They've been sensible with a modest increase in prices, and they have worked very hard to become a community club. They also have a great young manager.'

He added: 'They way in which Norwich work with the community is something that other clubs could learn from.'

There is, of course, a national context in which to place this issue.

While in the late 1980s and 1990s, Carrow Road sell-outs were almost as rare as an Ian Culverhouse goal, the picture was mirrored at most English grounds.

After years of high-profile outbreaks of football-related violence, the sport's family-friendly image was besmirched.

I remember attending matches at Carrow Road with a sense of trepidation - particularly when certain teams came visiting. And I'm sure that there were plenty of families that relegated a visit to the footie to the bottom of the league when choosing a weekend day out.

But few clubs have recorded such sustained growth in attendances as Norwich City.

To give it added perspective, it is worth noting that Norwich's average attendance this year is higher that the average for seven Premier League sides: Fulham, Birmingham, West Brom, Blackburn, Bolton, Wigan and Blackpool.

And the average home gate of a club that will always draw comparison with Norwich City, Ipswich Town, is just 19,306. And all at a club that has had a high-profile manager, plenty of big signings - and no recent visits to the third flight.

But all of the above is really just background music when compared to the single most important factor in soaring season ticket sales at Norwich City - the fans.

The marketing team could try all they might, the team could keep winning with style and the sun could shine every Saturday afternoon. But if the supporters weren't so extraordinary, it would make precious little difference.

As Delia Smith keeps saying, Norwich City have the 'best fans in the world'. And, yet again, her proud boast is being backed by the facts.