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Our loyal fans spent €78m travelling to see Rooney and co

FOOTBALLERS like John Terry, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard can thank Irish fans in part for their high wages.

New figures from tourism bosses in Britain show more than 170,000 supporters from across Ireland travelled to English Premier League matches last year.

The fans splashed out €78m on trips to see the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea.

Substantial gate receipts at Premier League games help maintain the multimillion euro salaries of top footballers in England.

United's Old Trafford ground was the most popular for overseas visitors last year, followed by Anfield, the Emirates Stadium and Chelsea's Stamford Bridge.

White Hart Lane and Goodison Park also had high numbers of foreign visitors.

The number of visits made to English soccer stadiums by Irish fans jumped in 2011, according to the national tourism agency VisitBritain.

The data shows some 174,000 people made the journey last year -- 10,000 more than in 2010.

But the figures remain well short of the numbers who travelled from Ireland during the boom years when 267,000 travelled in 2008 alone.

Apart from the British themselves, no other nationality travels in such large numbers to Premier League games than the Irish.

In fact, the Irish account for almost 20pc of overseas fans who travelled to the matches.

VisitBritain says the top five nations coming to Premier League football are Ireland, Norway, the US, Spain and Germany.

Results taken from the 2011 Office for National Statistics International Passenger Survey showed 900,000 foreign football tourists spent a substantial £706m (€867m) last year.

It worked out at €964 per fan.

The same research by VisitBritain in 2010 found 750,000 fans came to Britain and spent €730m.

Around 40pc of foreign fans going to a football match said that watching sport was the main reason for visiting the UK.