Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Broken News

No supporter of our bruised and battered domestic league can be immune to the relentless pessimism offered throughout our general media in relation to the national joke that is the eircom League. From south to north and west to wherever, participants are making the news for no reasons other than financial ones. Money needed here, in debt there, in administration down there, mock the black news stories.

So bad are things perceived to be that the eL even made RTE's Primetime programme. Unfortunately, all of this negative lava is fodder warms the hearts and minds of our devoted knockers - if it sounds like shit and looks like shit.....

A few weeks back I bemoaned the wan efforts - no, the lack of effort - from the league's administrators. At a time when the eL was being ambushed, their was a painful lack of leadership. The alumni of the FAI have finally had a peek out from behind the curtains, however meek and discreet it may have been. The message has been simple and consistent - ' We aren't responsible for players' wages, the clubs are.'

There were references to the recent strides taken by the league since it has come under the umbrella of the FAI. Followed by understated references to the future of the league and the plans that the governing body has in store for same. While his oratorical ability is more Christy Brown than Barack Obama, Fran Gavin has maintained a steady hand in his dealings with the media. He too has been understated in his delivery and the withdrawal of Platinum 1's plans has lent weight to his mantra.

While not exactly leaving with their tails between their legs, the whole taking my ball and going home departure of Platinum 1 now leaves supporters with no option other than to hold their nerve and have an a la carte faith in the FAI's plans.

If searching for divine inspiration, we need look no further than the field of play. Drogheda are finding some form and it gladdens the heart of this neutral observer to see sides play to their full potential. Bohs are bamboozling all with their relentless point-winning performances and Pats have done us proud in Berlin.

Some have cited the Saints performance as a best ever effort from an Irish club side in Europe. It is of course a facile pursuit. Mine own compass plots a line from Derry City v Benfica to the present day - I cannot compare that to the achievements of Athlone Town and Shamrock Rovers in the grainy pre-colour and HD days of television.

What was noticeable at the Olympic Stadium, was the degree to which Pats were confident enough in their own ability to play the same kind of fluid football which has bewitched us in domestic fare this season. Of course they weren't able to produce this on demand. They had to battle for the right to play their football and did. Many other performances from Irish sides have seen all hands to the pump franticism, with long balls despatched in the opposite direction with hope and little else pinned to them. Pats' self-belief and assuredness were the adjectives that separated this performance from the mundane.

Then, to sit back and enjoy the quality of the football on show when the self-same Saints hosted Derry City in the Setanta Cup on Tuesday night, only added to the feelgood factor. Admittedly - check that with Johnny Mc if in doubt - the high-flying Inchicoremen were having an off-night. Still, the sight of two professional teams attempting - and succeeding in those attempts - to play football as it should be played reinforces one's decision to reject the bloated world of English football for all the best that the Irish equivalent has to offer. I just hope Kevin Mc Hugh's goal celebration is not a sign of things to come.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Football In The Round

The 'despicable' antics of a certain professional footballer have incited a lot of anger amongst domestic football followers in the past few days. Stuart Byrne has been suspended pending investigation by his employers, Drogheda United. Whilst little is being said officially, it is the widely held belief that Stuey was reported by a colleague for tapping up a player. No, this is not the latest voguish term for some manner of homosexual liaison, just the latest in a never-to-end series of illegal acts that take place in football. From the top tier to the lowest echelons players have always been tapped up. It's notoriously difficult to prove, therefore difficult to snuff out.

In the eyes of many, Byrne, if such 'charges' are upheld, will stand guilty of nothing more than being caught. Of course, most Drogheda fans would be loathe to take such a benevolent view. Such insidious practises undermine a dressing room, puncturing team spirit and ultimately kicking the legs from under any serious trophy challenge. As a professional, any player should be totally committed to the club that is paying his coiffurist.

Stuart Byrne has until now epitomised the modern Irish professional footballer. His seamless transition from title winner at Shelbourne, to a driving force in the Drogheda side that captured a first ever Premier Division title last season was without seam. Paul Doolin coveted Byrne's experience and realised that it could be the final piece in his particular jigsaw - and so it proved.

Clearly a driven individual on the field of play, those assets have seeped from his performances in latter weeks. Some observers put this down to his being played out of position - Stuart Byrne has stood in at right back in the absence of Brian Shelley and at centre-half when necessary. He has rarely been spotted in a central midfield role.

Behind every footballer in the eL is a humanoid. These humanoids have loans and mortgages. Some have even reproduced with compatible female humanoids. They may be on good money compared to the man in the stand holding 10 euros worth of fish & chips; but they do have commitments. Their careers are short and perilous; particularly those who swim in the murky waters of our domestic league. Even the so-called big clubs are on first name terms with financial meltdown. Any footballer who has chosen to plant his flag in the eircom League leads a precarious existence.

It's said that many Americans are but a pay cheque away from homelessness; would those of us who work in the real world tolerate what many of our professional footballers have had to in recent years? Unpaid wages, bouncing cheques. If a player can squeeze fifteen years out of a top level carer he will have done well. Our evolving professionalism doesn't allow a footballer to plan that far ahead - there might be no professional clubs here within a couple of years. What then for our top ranking players? The boat to Barnet a la Johno, most likely. That's if they can set themselves up with a paycheck across the water.

Viability is a key issue here. it exists in patches and has done all through my lifetime in the League of Ireland. Bigmoney backer- best players - success. Bigmoney backer withdraws, frustrated by machinations of LOI - players move on to wherever they can earn a good bob - the sequence continues. Think of how many players who have sagging ceilings caused by boxes of League and Cup medals. Rovers, Derry and Shels from the 80's through to the noughties. The list of previous clubs is usually a lengthy one as players follow the money; sometimes following a manager who has been promised money to spend.

Such is the nature of the professional game we currently nurture and support. So let's not be too hard on Stuart Byrne. Watch as he frantically searches for a crest to hold on to during his famous rant

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Friday Fliuch-ed

Waterworld has returned to our greens and as I write all but two of Friday night's games are underwater and awaiting a refix. The usual quips about summer football are as plentiful as the precipitation but extensive scientific research has proven beyond all doubt that the FAI are no longer responsible for weather on matchdays.

The vacuum for football fans is but a temporary one however as Pats and Bohs go nose to nose on Monday night in a crucial league clash. In effect Dublin City Council, courtesy of their favourable arrangement with the rain gods, have done the Saints a wee favour ahead of the game. Pats have a lot of football in the pipeline and were facing into tonight's proposed game against Galway carrying a lot of knocks and strains. The extra few days of regimented inactivity will serve as a boon to Johnny Mc ahead of a game which his side must win to retain an anorexic hope of a run in next season's Champions League.

The last fortnight has provided us with more talking points than even an Irish mammy could handle; the largely unanticipated demise of Cork City and its attendant financial woes; the budget shortfall at Bohs and concerns of certain sections of their support as to where the club are headed and of course the Saints superb on-field success in UEFA Cup action. That is not to neglect the traumas at Sligo Rovers, Cobh Ramblers and Drogheda United. Truly these are tightrope times for the eircom Boylesports Ford League of Ireland.

Various figures are aflight in the media with regards to financial shortfalls. Cork €1.3m; Bohs €.53m; Cobh €.4m; Sligo €90k. Those four amounts total €2.32m. Last weekend, as the shutters were pulled down on the English transfer window it was estimated that £300m worth of deals were done on the final day. Lest you slid by the symbol, that was in the currency of QS - Queen's Shilling. Current rate of exchange equates that sum to over €370m euro.

Expletive deleted et cetera. Truly we are minions in world football. The outcry and furore over our fiscal woes is cast into the shade by such leviathan figures. That should not distract us from the fact that in relative terms those debts present a heavy burden to our clubs and that is oft trodden ground in recent times.

On a grim day there is a bright note. And it results from action on the field as opposed to inaction off it. The Saints have raised the spirits of all fans with their European success. Many times we have read and heard that getting into the Champions League Group stages is the Holy Grail for us - doubtless it would provide a welcome distraction for any club - as a result we have tended to ignore the possibilities presented us by the UEFA Cup.

Pats, is has been said, stand to make about €750k from their First Round tie with Hertha Berlin. For the players there will be the kudos of appearing at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. For the Board at Richmond Park there is the kudos of sitting in the Direktor's Box at said venue, added to the welcome financial inflow.

Brighter than all of that stuff is the news of how the nice board from Inchicore have chosen to deal with disappointed supporters. How have Pats got disappointed supporters? Not only disappointed, but out of pocket. These quick-fingered fans swooped to book flights for the game in Germany on September 18th; only to find that following consultations with TV companies and other clubs it was decided to switch the game to Tuesday 14th September. The Germans you see have six clubs in European action that week and this date change offers some exclusivity to the Pats fixture and ensures that the money continues to come in. all reasonable enough, as long as you aren't one of the early bookers.

Fret not, the Saints in a moment of philandery have agreed to reimburse those who have incurred added expense as a result of the unforeseen switch. A little ray of sunshine on a piss poor day.

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