Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The little man versus the mob – Irelands two soccer cultures

Is the FAI doing enough to develop football in this country or are they more interested in getting farcical frankly embarrassing awards from UEFA for being “Number 1” fans? Or maybe it's the fans fault?

At the moment Irish football is a complete mess. We were the first team knocked out of a tournament that, let’s face it, was hopelessly out of our league. We lost another League of Ireland team in Monaghan United which has been happening at a rate of a team a year for the last five years. For a country which has won an award for being the “best supporters” this smacks of unreality. We have a domestic soccer league in this country that is totally ignored by the majority of football supporters within this country. Yet we had 30,000 to 35,000 supporters travel to the far side of Europe to watch our national team get absolutely humiliated. The old sour argument from LoI fans is that the “barstoolers” will only come out when their local team is doing well or in Europe or has some glamour friendly against an English or Scottish club is tiring at this stage. But how fans of the national team can ignore local football is kind of baffling also. 

Domestic football supporters have a kind of elitist, holier than thou, siege mentality which at times can be fairly arrogant and ignorant. There seems to be a total disregard bordering on outright hatred of anybody who dares to have anything to do with the GAA for example. Now I am not saying that this is the same everywhere but in my home town of Sligo this is very true. There is a so called hard-core element within the clubs fan base who has traditionally hated the GAA. Eamonn Sweeney in his book “There’s only one Red Army” remembers standing in the old shed end in the Showgrounds and hearing the home support cheering when it was announced that Sligo had lost a football match. I remember this myself. Nowadays it’s not as bad as that but there are some elements within the league that look down their noses at “Bog Ball” and anybody who plays or is involved in it. The other side of it is, that I have had heated and pointless debates with complete fools who run down the domestic league yet at the same time have never been to a game.

But everyone’s opinion is sacred (thank you democracy) so I left that poor uneducated individual alone. What we are left with is arguing and pointless debates between two groups. One group is like an angry little man trying to out shout the mob, desperately trying to draw the public’s attention to a thing of beauty that is sitting on our door-step. He is always up to fight his corner and has endless points and arguments to show how right he is and how wrong the other man is. The other man is not as stupid as he looks, he loves beauty but in truth he sometimes does not even know that he is in an argument and in fairness most of the time he couldn’t care less.

What is needed is leadership. The FAI is letting football down and therefore the nation down in this regard. There is space for all the national sports in Ireland. As a country and culture we have changed. Due to economic, educational and health reasons Irish people have suddenly started taking care of their health. Running has suddenly taken off in the country. You cannot drive down a country road anymore without bumping into some athletic event whether it’s triathlon, duathlon or just a plain five or ten km race. There is enthusiasm for sport there and this needs to be tapped into and harnessed by the FAI.

This is a bit of a rant and in fairness I am not offering any solutions so I will leave that for my next post but I will leave you with a statistic that was mentioned in an article by Peter Staunton on Goal.com. In it he said that Ireland had an average attendance of 43,000 in the qualifying campaign for the Euros. If even half that number went to a League of Ireland match every two  weeks at €15 a head than it would mean nearly an extra €5 million for Irish football. This money would go a long way to help develop players like Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Stephen Ward, James McClean and Seamus Coleman to name just a few.

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