Friday, July 18, 2008

Rollcall

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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