Friday, July 25, 2008

Max Moseley's Boots

They're up in arms down in Killarney - the presence in the bowels of that tourist friendly town of a sex shop have added a whole new dimension to the Ring of Kerry. Coupled to that we have Catherine Thomas gushing in some tourism advertisement about her gallop on a beach somewhere in the Kingdom and it's safe to say that Max Moseley has probably booked his flight.

The F1 boss is sure to bring a stout pair of boots to enhance his preferred look - and they may come in handy for something else. The enduring pastime of League of Ireland slapping shows no sign of dieback in its popularity. News of developments, match reports, press releases and their ilk are usually to be found by searchers. There are occasional exceptions - and it would be blinkered to expect that what is almost a minority sport on this island would rub shoulders with horse racing and worldwide sports news.

Depressingly, those exceptions often come in the form of bad news stories. It seems as if the media at large are anticipating the death of our league and each is hovering expectantly, willing the exhalation of that final breath. The death notices are on file.

No sooner had I arrived at my place of slavery today than a newspaper was thrust into my chest by a man with jackboots, a Nazi uniform and a triumphant tone - 'there, eircom are pulling out.' As is standard, the headline was enough to prompt this behaviour; facts and details provide great problems for the slappers.

Doubtless, such scenes have been repeated across the country - wherever fans of football gather, they will enjoy a long piss on the grave of the eircom League. That certainly does sound bitter, but it never ceases to perplex me that people who profess to follow football can so readily dismiss the talents of the best footballers on our island. Is it because the teams are populated by 'failed footballers' - if not making Premiership grade in England constitutes a failed footballer, then the world is overstocked with failed footballers.

I am a football fan; I can appreciate and covet the exceptional gifts of the world's greatest - none of whom ply their trade in Ireland. I can covet and appreciate the talent of Keith Fahey, Owen Morrisson, Shane Robinson, Stephen Rice, Dave Mooney, Mark Quigley. I could go on. I can appreciate the talents of an Amateur League player, of an AUL player. We don't dismiss these because they haven't made it in England.

The league needs this that and the other - better everything essentially - maybe then we'll go to watch it, say the naysayers. We manage to attract investors. Investors are supporting clubs, paying greater wages to attract and retain players. Are they of a higher standard than in previous times? Maybe not. But they are fitter, better prepared, better conditioned. There is no player who will not benefit from fulltime application to his craft.

Investors have allowed certain clubs to indulge themselves with professional set-ups; we are grateful for their involvement. But then unsustainability is wheeled out. Everyone agrees that the game in it's current state is unsustainable; it is investment in a new future. Money ploughed in with the hope of improving the status of the game.

It is an uphill struggle, as their seems to be an inbuilt hatred for our game amongst our own people. When it comes to knocking, we top the medals table on our wee island. The chasm between the highest echelons of English football and the Premier Division here could accommodate Hairy Marney's rotund rectal area several times over. There's no argument. Is it an uncomfortable relic of our colonial subservience, causing us to feel deeply embarrassed at our seeming ineptitude in this area? Because we cannot compete, we dismiss. Ah, sure the eircom League is only a joke, no one in Ireland takes it seriously. We follow Celtic - they're Irish. Arsenal - they had Irish players once. Man U - Liam Whelan played for them. Sunderland are owned by the Irish.

By adopting this stance we are actually the proud followers of the holders of the Champions League and the plucky underdogs in Glasgow who we dream will come good one day. The eircom League is the handicapped child of yesteryear, cast into an institution and forgotten about. Until there's a titillating death notice to be scribed.

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Friday, July 18, 2008


The perennial division amongst eircom League fans regarding the benefits of summer soccer have yet again assumed their full blossom. Fertilised by the publicity surrounding financial difficulties at various clubs across the provinces, the gloomsayers are enjoying a feeding frenzy.

The crowds are worse; we can't/shouldn't be competing with GAA; everyone is on holidays; the pitches are too hard; the wages are too high. Repeat to fade.

Getting an accurate and universally accepted record of attendances is as difficult as getting a week of sunshine in our unfair isle, so figures quoted are often to be taken with a blob of coleslaw. I think that most folks accept that there was an improvement last term - the first season during which the club CPO's made their presence felt - but eye-witness and anecdotal evidence suggests that this hasn't been sustained. Fran Gavin recently said that this year's attendances are up 7% on last season's. Whilst it would warm my gonads to swallow this 'fact', I fear that I might catch an infection.

Event junkies - anyone who is of an age to recall the unprecedented fervour which surrounded Ireland's 5-game voyage through Italia '90 will have experienced first hand our penchant for jumping onto bandwagons. We truly are a nation of. Want a ticket for a Dubs league game at the 10,000 capacity Parnell Park? No problem. Want a ticket for a Dubs All-Ireland game at the 82,000 capacity Croker? Hmm, maybe. We truly are. Just shy of 2,750 paying customers entered Terryland Park for the midweek visit of Leeds United. - the Galwegians have been struggling to muster 1,000 of late - and this against a Third Division outfit from the English League. We truly.

Were we to revert to the winter season there would doubtless be decriers on all sides. What's the point in fixing a match on the same night as Sky are showing a live game? Etc. etc. Never mind the pitches...that Raiders feature on MNS causes our washing machine to whimper. Muck everywhere and the ball, like a giant lump of white tac, sticking to it. Such surfaces are most definitely not conducive to the beautiful game. What is the point of imbuing our young players with silky skills and then offering them substandard stages upon which to display them?

A fully professional league doesn't have to exist - it doesn't currently and never has. But all things find their own level and eventually the eircom League will find its. In an island of our size, the domestic league is a tiny tiller attempting to turn around long and deeply held convictions about its qualities and appeal. We are geographically disadvantaged, i.e. the most popular league in the world is on our doorstep and for decades Irish people have crossed the Irish Sea to take in English games rather than take a bus to a League Of Ireland match. This is not going to change overnight, if at all.

The FAI have committed themselves to raising the profile of the league. They have grasped a painful nettle. Following years of self-administration, incumbent clubs were often guilty of shoddy practises regarding accounts and general admin. Cracks could be papered over without too much questioning; brown envelopes have played an important part in this nation's past. To leave that era behind requires the removal of dinosaurs and biros, to be replaced by eager beavers and PC's.

There can never be advancement without investment - sugar daddies will never be defunct in football - Chelsea FC are a testament to that. We must welcome the interest of their wallets and use them to improve facilities and playing staff. Better money attracts better players. Better players achieve better results in Europe. Victory in Europe raises profile. Profile attracts interest. These are ideals, but we cannot improve without aspiration.

There were certainly many who mocked at man's early efforts to fly - there were many mistakes made along the way. Had nobody tried and failed we would still be dreaming of air travel. The eL in its current guise is an imperfect creature. Pats, Bohs and Drogheda are on Viagra, while many others complain of headaches.

The aforementioned intervention of the FAI included the introduction of the 65% wage cap. This is the first season of the rule and we have seen the likes of Waterford, Sligo and Galway United come a cropper. This is a negative view however. In each case, the clubs are acknowledging the necessity to cut their cloth and are in the throes of same. Speculate to accumulate, closely followed by two steps forward and one step back. Incremental change bringing incremental improvement. It boggles the mind to consider that were Cristiano to give up a few days pay he could salve the sores of Sligo Rovers.

It won't happen overnight; it certainly won't happen if brave and dedicated individuals don't take the plunge. It might all go horribly wrong - it might not. What have we got to lose? The pieces can be picked up and reassembled and we will be no worse off than before.

Yes, there is a way to go. Some grounds are woeful, some pitches likewise. Clubs will continue to struggle to keep up with the haves - this is the case in every league across the world. I am not glibly claiming that a rising tide will raise all boats - boats will find their own level, but it must be allowed to happen. We are in the fledgling stages of change for the better, not simply for change sake.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

We're Fluxxed

No AIL! No problem with providing the extra money for the Landsdowne Road overrun. Clubs balancing on precarious financial tightropes to sustain professionalism and competitiveness. Advertisemnets, CPO's, initiatives, lures, special offers.

We are trying it all and this week I bring my 11 year-old nephew to his first eL game. A fairweather football fan whose knowledge doesn't carry much more depth than the sticker albums he treasures. Begotten of parents with no interest in sport he was been assuaged with Barca jerseys purchased on a visit to the Camp Nou - while holidaying in Salou - and latterly a Portugal top courtesy of a June holiday on the Algarve.

His lifeplan is to become rich and famous, preferably through playing football. He hasn't joined a club yet, so progress has been hindered somewhat. This particular Celtic Cub attended his first 'live' game when Ireland last graced Croke Park - this is what he will measure the meeting of Shamrock Rovers and Cobh Ramblers against.

Sugared up to his follicles, the presence of Keane & Co. in the flesh was enough to maintain his mood on what was a memorable occasion for him. Obviously, I haven't yet explained where we are headed tomorrow - other than to say we are going to a game. There will be much groundwork done on the journey to Tolka Park and it's whatever you fancy at the chipper.

We need goalmouth action aplenty, unforgettable goals and saves. Moments of skill and crunching tackles; and plenty of noisy atmosphere. I cringe when thinking about how I am to explain the vast expanses of red plastic seating, untouched by human arses.

Bohemians invited the entire population of DCU to a game recently. Finn Harps allowed all kids in free last week. On neither occasion were the clubs in question overcome by the sheer force of population descending upon their aged stadia. In fact, last week's Harps v Bray fixture was remarkable for the poor attendance at Finn Park.

Realistically, Irish domestic football is the anti - M50 toll booth of sport. Time and time again motoring organisations and lobbyists - Senator Shane Ross notable amongst them - called upon the authorities to allow traffic to pass through without stopping at the M50 toll booth for just one day. They contended that we would see such an improvement in traffic flow that it would be folly not to eliminate tolls for good and bask in the serenity of free-flowing traffic around our capital city.

Of course, the b's that power were never going to cede to such a request - once it worked they were royally f'd and all that lovely toll money would be lost. Painful as it is to type - were all eircom League grounds to throw open their gates to the populace tomorrow I suggest that the increase in attendance would be minimal. A few curious schooligans intent on rustling up trouble of course...maybe a dog or two. Most folk wouldn't cross the road to bother attending an eL game- even a free one.

This is the low base from whence we climb. People's realities have been polluted by multiple camera angles and replays with HD pictures and Dolby Digital Surround sound. This weekend its 'Build Me Up Buttercup' and 'Don't Let Me Down' Hoops and Rams. My maths tells me that if we can all attract one more fan, then we double attendances.

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