Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Confessions of an Unfaithful Lover.

Since my conversion from Premiership swallower to League of Ireland lover I have experienced a strange anaesthaesia while looking on at the continuing demise of my former partners in football, Leeds United. No, you are not about to endure another monologue which observes the symbiosis of Shelbourne and Leeds. That ground is well trodden.

Upon bumping into, or even espying former lover from a safe distance, one is powerless. Immediately the object of your former affection is scanned and evaluated; comparisons are drawn with the last known sighting. If there is time, one will draw some conclusions once the new information has been processed and filed. If not, the assimilation will take place at the next opportune moment; not that the population contains many of my exes. They've all emigrated for Gender Regeneration Surgery type thing.

From the time I was knee high to Johnny Giles and Billy Bremner I was a Leeds fan. Now that I stand shoulder to shoulder with those two giants of English football I have left my Elland Road days behind me.

Strangely, I never managed to let go of the coincidences that have occurred since that painless parting. League of Ireland football is often pitched as equal to the Championship and Football League One. Since taking up the cause for domestic football on our island the Yorkshire club have been excreted from the Premiershop and it's feeder division.

Unable to fund regular trips across the nuked waters of the Irish Sea, TV and later the interweb were to be my connection to LUFC, Pride of Yorkshire. But now the level at which they conduct their business is available on my doorstep; a higher level in some cases.

This made me feel fortunate; like you feel if you spot an ex exiting the STD clinic - should you happen to be passing that way. Then - Shock and Awe, Shite 'n' Onions; I saw the attendance figure for Dennis Wise's side against mighty Southend at Elland Road. 24,036. Twenty four thousand and thirty six! Better than five of the attendance totals from the top tier in Engerland.

I was feeling a little queasy; that bird you dumped is worth a fortune and she's into you and you could put up with the lifestyle and her. Serial unemployable's sort of queasy. Queasy gave way to envy.

If we got that figure for an FAI Cup Final we would be well sated. Leeds has a population of less than 1/2 a million (people, of course). All too rare are the occasions when an Irish football arena heaves with energy, intensity and atmosphere; it doesn't have to be full to achieve this status.

Week upon week we are feted with live action now; a welcome advertisement for our game, yes; but a woeful one. Cameras pan across ramshackle areas, bereft of man or beast, just the odd guard or lonely steward who stands out all the more for his fluorescent garb. The sense of atmosphere is minimal; Paul Cook saying that 10 fans travelled to Waterford for the league game is fodder for the hurlers on the ditch.

The kite has been flown across the water that eventually, when the Premiershop has eaten itself, fans will disappear. They will then be replaced by an audience, who have been given free tickets to the game. Whether or not there will be a stage manager provoking applause at appropriate moments remains to be seen.

What if we were to give free tickets to our games? Promote a League of Ireland Festival week. Open Days a la last season, building up to a weekend of free admission at every fixture. Investment would be needed to at least give the appearance of hygiene and upkeep at the grounds - the kind of clean sweep the bathroom gets when you get the 10 minute raid warning from your mother.

Potentially full houses would mean extra crowd control duties and more Gardai; a financial input from the FAI would be welcome; some extra sponsorship on foot of the extra incoming could help to defray some of the cost. Some of this may seem fatuous, but a cold eye cast on our game reveals little to attract the lazy punter.

Things have improved, live games were often flagged as a potential draw; I'm beginning to believe that some of the ties are doing more harm than good. We need more say in what is broadcast. The Derry City / Finn Harps game presents a perfect example. Oozing intensity and rivalry before a full house, it would certainly have come across better on screen than the soggy offering from the wide open spaces of the RSC. There is something squirmworthy about getting a clear view of PC World and the passing traffic in the background. It distracts your attention from the game. What's the weather like in Waterford now? Is that bus full? Oh there's a goal.

Maybe a well stuffed weekly magazine with highlights, interviews and an improved time slot is the way to go; until we get our houses in order.

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