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Jun 5, 2014

Bari set for bumper playoff attendance

AS Bari have seen their crowd numbers rise hugely after the club was threatened with extinction in March.

Every single one of the 58,248 seats in Bari's Stadio San Nicola could be occupied when the Serie B side face Latina in a playoff for promotion to the Italian top flight on Sunday.

The rush on tickets saw lengthy queues form outside the stadium on Thursday morning with the first-team players offering a free breakfast to those who are desperate to see them in action this weekend. Since the club fell to the brink of financial ruin earlier this year, the city's enthusiasm for football has been awoken.

Only two weeks ago, a takeover deal led by former referee Gianluca Paparesta saw the club stave off the threat of extinction after they were declared insolvent in March. The fans have responded with crowd records repeatedly broken, and a new best for the second tier of Italian football will in all likelihood be set on Sunday.

On the opening day of sale on Wednesday, 24,000 tickets were sold: that is a rate of 3,000 tickets per hour for what is only the first leg of a semifinal tie with the winner going on to face either Cesena or Modena over a further two legs for a place in Serie A next season.

A new league attendance record of 48,744 was set for Bari's final game of the season -- a 4-1 win over Novara which secured them seventh position and a place in the playoffs against third-placed Latina. 35,181 had attended their previous regular season clash with Cittadella.

"This club showed today how we cannot settle just for a small project," said Paparesta following victory over Novara -- Bari's first game since his bid of 4.8 million euros for the debt-ridden club was accepted. "It has to be a big one that the fans can believe in, because they have deserved it."

Sunday's anticipated record crowd is in stark contrast to the 936 who attended their second home game of the season against Modena back in September -- paradoxically the lowest crowd at a Serie B fixture all year. Indeed, Bari struggled to fill even 2,000 seats for their home matches during the first half of the season.

Only when the Galletti were about to be wound up did the Apulian fans flock back to a venue constructed for the World Cup on the outskirts of the city, and left to look eerily empty ever since, even during their last Serie A campaign in 2010-11.

Their biggest attendance that season was 45,162 against Juventus -- still three thousand fewer than last month's clash with Novara, and over 10,000 fewer than the number which should pass through the turnstiles this Sunday.

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