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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