The Euros kick off on Sunday and the nation will be united in following the Republic of Ireland’s exploits. This is a good thing, but why can’t a bigger fraction of this support make its way through the gates of League of Ireland clubs?
Everyone wants to follow the national team when they are in a big tournament. It’s understandable and people have a right to be patriotic and join in the hysteria. There are the people who follow the national team, as well as their local League of Ireland club, through thick and thin. There are the people who don’t follow any League of Ireland club but instead follow English clubs, as well the Republic of Ireland national team. There’s the more casual supporter who maybe only follows the national team and then there’s the people who ordinarily have no interest in soccer; maybe soccer only comes on their horizon when it’s big news.
There’s a fair few bandwagon jumpers in the mix. There always is in any walk of life when something is making a big splash. I first noticed the phenomenon in soccer in the 1990’s, when we qualified for a couple of World Cups. Everyone was suddenly interested in Jack’s Army. Radio presenters suddenly started having football slots on their shows, as if it was something they felt they should be heard talking about. They talked about the national team and the English league but rarely mentioned the domestic league.
At around this time the English Premier League was born and Manchester United seemed to win it every year. Suddenly United fans appeared out of nowhere. They’d always been united fans apparently. Funny that, I don’t recall them being around in the 1970’s and 1980’s when United won no League titles and were in a long period of decline during the wilderness years between the Busby and Ferguson eras.
There’s something fraudulent about the bandwagon jumper. If you think of David Cameron in the last UK general election campaign, He couldn’t remember whether it was Aston Villa or West Ham United he supported. He got the general colour of the strip right I suppose. His opponent for Prime Minister at the time [Ed Miliband of Labour] claimed to support Leeds United, but couldn’t name any of the current squad. He explained this by saying he’d ‘lapsed’. A fraud, and a bandwagon jumper for sure. Tony Blair was the same, claiming to support Newcastle United. I don’t think he’d ever been seen in St James Park.
Bandwagon jumping is essentially an economic thing. People follow the money. Soccer became big business so it came onto everyone’s radar. The converse holds true also – League of Ireland isn’t big business or glamorous and hence it stays off the radar of most. Nobody wants to jump on that bandwagon.
Recently we had the awful situation at Athlone Town exposed to public scrutiny. A club that couldn’t afford to pay expenses to amateur players to cover the costs of travelling to Waterford United themselves will now be left without the vital revenue a home game brings for seven weeks. You can’t help but wonder if even a modest increase in gate revenue would have averted these issues. At Bray the home gate rarely rises above 1,000. In the most recent round of the FAI Cup the combined attendance at the 16 games didn’t get into 5 figures.
Perhaps the powers that be in the FAI and LOI should be using the break in the season as a period of reflection on how the league can be helped, specifically by implementing measures to try to boost attendances. Yes, we all want to watch the Euros. But the Euros will end and the league will resume and unless something is done there will be more Athlone-Waterford situations.
Picture Credit: RTE