I would like to start the ball rolling again for the Campaign to move League of Ireland football back to Saturdays.
The SSE Airtricity League is the highest level of football you can watch on this island. I have enjoyed it since moving over from Glasgow to Ireland and it is now my one true sporting love. The fact that there is a world of football in Europe, of a higher standard and available on TV, is not hugely relevant to me or to all those like me who attend League of Ireland games.
The one thing I do miss about Celtic FC however and the Scottish Premier League as a whole is Saturday Football.
Irish clubs are not really in competition with the Premier League. Those who travel to the UK to watch the English team they support are typically on a rare trip, costing hundreds. Day tripping to English, Scottish or European games has a negligible impact on attendances at home, which I believe is one of the main reasons for Friday night football in the first place.
League of Ireland clubs need to understand who the competition on a Friday night really is. You’re not really competing against other sports; you’re competing against the pub, a nice meal or a trip to the cinema. Football is being weighed against other forms of entertainment that can distract and entertain, and it’s not just the base price that affects people, but the overall cost of the night, especially when you want to bring your kids. Against this form of entertainment it is difficult to win, if you love football you will choose football but if you don’t, you have the choice of the cinema with warmth, good facilities and near enough guaranteed entertainment – or the fickle world of hit or miss Football.
Now so far, attendances in the League of Ireland are not great. Week 1’s Premier average was 2492 and Week 2 was 2566. Even the tasty looking St Patrick’s Day clash at Tallaght between Shamrock Rovers and Cork City had a crowd of only 3045 (which may look good on paper this season, but could and should be so much better).
Now I do believe the standard of the league is relatively high and this has been shown with how well Dundalk performed at the highest level in European competition. You can also tie this in with a possible 3 way title challenge and the most exciting relegation battle we have had in years.
On the PR front, Shamrock Rovers are showing how it’s done with a magnificent stadium, great facilities, well run advertising campaigns and marketing well in the local region (shops, schools etc…).
So, on the above points, attendances should be rising but sadly are not. The reason I believe this could be is due to Friday night football.
I do not think Friday nights are the best time for matches. One main reason for this I believe is the lack of opportunity for away fans to travel. Away fans create atmosphere, and atmosphere creates excitement. Larger away followings to places, particularly outside Dublin, also leave everybody in the town knowing there is a game on and create free awareness and a buzz around the town. I used to live in a town in Scotland with a population of around 100,000, on any given Saturday there could be around 1000 away fans around town from early in the morning, the whole town knew there was a game without any need for extra promotion and it created a buzz around the local football club. However due to the Friday night football here in Ireland, an Away Supporter culture has not been allowed to materialise as it has across the water. Trust me; following Celtic away was a lot more fun than watching them at Celtic Park. However, would I have followed them across Scotland if the games were on a Friday night? I doubt it.
I do think Saturday evenings at 7.30/8.00 are more suited to football. It seems to work relatively well for Sligo Rovers up here in the North west where Saturday night is Rovers night in the region.
I realise the choice of match day is a personal choice, and many of us individually will favour each of the different match day options, but I truly believe for this League to continue to grow, a return to Saturday football must at the very least be worth further investigation.