At last a new beginning or is it the death of Irish football as we know it. It has taken a group of amateur players from Athlone Town to highlight and communicate the inadequate treatment of soccer players in this Country over the last 20 years.
Courageous players who have stood up for their rights and entitlements and who have opened up the can of worms that has been sitting in FAI headquarters for longer than I can remember.
I wonder what Michael O’Leary would say about that? Maybe he can ask some more students to take the players places after a one day trial or indeed he might offer free playing positions with the club as part of his next marketing ploy. Bums on seats indeed but that’s exactly what we need to get the clubs moving forward again.
Is this walk out from Athlone’s players the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Irish soccer community has just had enough of mediocrity. An Irish Water watershed in soccer terms and the only possible way to highlight these inadequacies is not fulfilling a match fixture.
Athlone are not alone in highlighting financial pressures within their clubs. My own club Waterford and Finn Harps have communicated such problems through the media but how many more clubs are keeping their cards close to their chests.
The FAI can manage their affairs professionally and be seen to address real needs with realistic policies but come on lets get real here. Mismanagement, too inept or cowardly to tackle bad practices when they surfaced and the lack of leadership to design or cost accurately effective systems, has led us close to soccer Armageddon.
The Government introduced Irish Water without consulting the public at large and now the FAI is facing a similar revolution. Ollie Cahill who works for the Professional Players Association of Ireland was on Talksport on Sunday morning stating that his Union doesn’t look after amateur players only the registered professional’s.
I would like to look at the ratio of amateur to professional players currently working at each of the Airtricity Clubs. If my own club Waterford Utd is a benchmark then I would say there are more amateur players playing in the league than professionals.
In all my years as player, coach and manager it’s a first for me that a club hasn’t fulfilled a fixture. It’s a nuisance to all involved as I was on my way down to Waterford to play Athlone last Friday looking forward to the last game before the break.
I felt the pain of Alan Mathews and indeed the players, some of which needed their expenses to pay off everyday household bills.
Where do we go from here?
Do we need an energetic innovator whose influence can revolutionise our soccer product?
Or is it a partnership approach they can put the train back on its tracks. Personally we need to engage the partnership model where the local authority can become a key stakeholder and invest in existing soccer facilities by turning them into multi sports municipalities with the latest 3G soccer pitches that can also accommodate GAA, Rugby and other minority sports.
This multi sport approach will allow other sports to play at the facility and more revenue can be generated by opening up the facilities on a regular basis.
The facilities can be used all year round allowing for the schoolboys/ girls to train in the same venue as the first team which will help to build up effective systems of communication and trust within each club.
The blame game has to stop now and all key stakeholders involved in our game need to sit down immediately and sort this shambolic mess out. Iceland is a country that is isolated from the rest of Europe and is ready to take centre stage at this year’s European Championships. They have a population of around 300,000 and the Icelandic FA in partnership with local Government agencies has just invested in such facilities. They are been pro active in their decisions to improve the standard of their game over the next 30 years.
This season in the Premiership Claudio Ranieri has built a culture of togetherness, self belief and sacrifice at his club and what he has achieved against all the odds is mind boggling.
We need to make changes in our soccer product happen and quickly.
Our League is facing into a black hole during these next few difficult months.
We need to pull our soccer community together and work with them to figure out how to overcome these obstacles. The great Muhammad Ali quotes “impossible is nothing “You don’t have to change your goal. Change your path, be willing to, and don’t see that as a failure. That’s just life!