Thursday, October 09, 2008

Another Fine Mess

Yes, as if the eL hasn't already been victim of enough negative media coverage regarding the financial precariousness of its member clubs. It's wearying and repetitive, unless you're a sports journalist eyeing up a handy story.

Because there are not multi-million sums at play, as in the 'great leagues' of this world, all of our issues can be portrayed as petty. By using such a word a hack doesn't need to work too hard to elicit a sneer from the casual reader - just more internecine squabbling in that downmarket eL - an all too easily held perception and one which we will struggle to shatter in the forthcoming years.

With regards to the financial impurities involving many clubs; recent news reports have shown that we are not on our own when it comes to unsustainable budgets. Three of last season's Champions League semi-finalists are in combined debt to the tune of £1 billion. There are moves afoot to restrict overspending by clubs. Obviously the sums involved on our wee plot are mere fractions of the fortunes borrowed and spent by the elite. An unfortunate side effect of this is that eircom League fans are rarely treated to grisly tales of professional footballers roasting young ladies for the craic.

UEFA's discontent at clubs effectively buying success at any price reflects positively upon the imposition by the FAI of the notorious 65% wage cap. That cap has forced clubs out into open ground and once there, there can be no hiding. It can be accepted as part of a process of growth and maturity. Not so the saga in Wexford last Monday night.

This is exactly the kind of tale which brings all the wrong sort of attention on the league. This is one of the rare cases where the 'no publicity is bad publicity' adage fails to apply. The league was the butt of many a tongue-in-cheek report throughout Tuesday; even the rock of common sense that is Mick Wallace was swept away in the commotion of it all. The Wexford maestro was pretty in pink as he turned up to suggest that Limerick never had any intention of fulfilling the fixture.

Lims have been occupying fifth place of the First Division in splendid isolation for weeks now. Ten points behind Sporting Fingal, they are unlikely to climb further and with Monaghan United trailing them by seven - with a game more played - they are unlikely to be caught. The points on offer were hardly of critical importance to the visitors. Their decision to retreat from the Model County will have done little to endear them to the powers that fine; unless the Youths' facilities really are substandard for the dark nights, 37 can expect to have their particular cough softened by the Disciplinary Committee. We can attribute an element of farce to those events - with about 500 fans on site and members of the media present, it certainly wasn't going to slip under the radar, however unwelcome.

Would that the same could be said of the petty squabbling of Bohemians and Drogheda United. Both clubs have netted spectacular own goals in the week preceding their championship showdown. It was a setting fit for such an esteemed moment. Bohs, one win away from clinching the title, with Drogheda the deposed champions standing in their way. I was expecting a rare tussle, with the hosts pulling out all the stops to prevent Pat Fenlon's side from stealing the trophy away from United Park.

As were many others; the Gypsys were expecting a large travelling support for the televised game. On form, these are two good footballing sides; playing before a throaty crowd, it would have come across really well on flat screens across the land. Then the schoolyard handbags set in. At its root is reputed to be an incident wherein the Bohemian landlords prevented United from warming up on the Dalymount Park pitch ahead of their European tie versus Dinamo Kyiv. Drogs withheld some of the monies due to their hosts for the night. When Bohemians came calling for their ticket allocation ahead of the title showdown things became very shifty as United boxed clever in order to regain the upper hand.

It all smacked of greasy aftertaste and the league could have done without the Bohs board going public on the matter. Understandably, they were under pressure from demanding fans, but the situation should have been sorted out by the FAI without the need for Bohemians to share their frustration with the assembled benibbed ones. Again we are a laughing stock; efforts to sell the importance of the game undermined by the public infighting that for so long has been hand in glove with the League of Ireland. Some clever manoeuvres from our ruling body should put a stop to this in the future. That'll be another fine so.

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