A FAST-growing website can count one of England's sporting greats as a fan.

Sir Clive Woodward, who coached England's Rugby Union side to World Cup glory, was among the 500,000 visitors to www.sportnetwork.net last month.

Sir Clive, who is masterminding a British Lions victory in the Test against New Zealand, took the time to send a message of support to its Newcastle publishers, Kath Muir and Claire Jones.

His e-mail said: "Just been into the site, excellent - well done to you both, fantastic in every way, best wishes and good luck."

Sportnetwork was set up two years ago by Durham Associates, in Castle Eden, near Peterlee, County Durham.

It is the 12th most popular sports website in the UK and has so far recorded eight million hits, outstripping big names such as the official Arsenal FC site.

Director Dave Picken, a former head of news and sport at Tyne Tees TV, said: "We are hammering our competitors.

"Most of the sites above us are more mature and, therefore, have relatively static hit levels.

"Because ours is a community site, it is much "stickier" and visitors request many more page views than on most other sites.

"We hope to hit ten million page views a month by the end of February."

The portal offers access to 100 sports sites and is acknowledged to have the UK's largest online rugby community.