Several years ago I was your typical 14 year old football fanatic, collecting football programmes religiously and whatever other memorabilia I could get my hands on.
As you grow up and realise that there’s more to life than collecting memorabilia and other things prioritise themselves as a typical teenager, however when I was religiously collecting such memorabilia I was eager to get my hands on whatever was available; whether that was badges, scarves or programmes.
I can recall times of buying two maybe three programmes at Finn Park to swap worldwide.That may have been across the ‘pond’ to the UK or maybe further a field, Australia, Germany or Mexico even where I’ve developed quite a strong bond with a 21 one year old photography student in Guadalajara, Mexico based solely around football, yes indeed the beautiful game.
When I first swapped with Felipe I remember initially receiving some Mexican programmes and a small pennant of his local team Atlas. I then sent some Finn Harps Items; a badge, couple of programmes and several other small tokens as promised. Having swapped memorabilia from our local clubs we found interest in a different culture of football, but despite being several thousand miles away have the great affection for the game we adore.
(Above) A Harps programme at Plaza Liberacíon, Guadalajara, Mexico.
If you analyse any league around the world you’ll find that the local league isn’t the only interest of the spectators. Many on this isle are found of an English team, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal or if you go stateside the conversation surrounds Barcelona or Real Madrid for example.
Speaking to Felipe earlier it was interesting to hear how much the local team means to the city where it revolves around the club, with games being seen as almost a tradition and social events rather than to fill a void in the calendar. The majority who support their local team see it reaching capacity crowds higher than some other leagues that are well followed several times a season. On one instance a 5000 strong crowd travelled three hours to an away fixture that had no meaning or nothing at stake.
What interested him initially about Finn Harps was the loyalty that ran throughout the league of Ireland, almost identical to the Liga Mx, the top flight of Mexican football. The attraction of good football was a big bonus for him also explaining how one of his favourite aspects of the European game is that the players don’t sit all day on the ball unlike certain Mexican games where it’s fiercely contested however rather posessive. “When teams go one up they sit and park the bus, the teams are good but in Europe it is interesting because players like to have shots.”
Atlas, who without doubt are his pride and joy haven’t won much silverware over the seasons with their last major success being steeped in history rather similiar to the Ballybofey club that I proudly support week in week out. To have a comparison with a team on another continent can prove that the league isn’t far off a good standard and in my opinion there are foundations there to improve the matchnight experiences, just with the right individuals at the helm.
What really struck me about my conversation with Felipe is how the Mexican government helps out the local teams with infastructure. Football in the 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland as we all know is governed by the FAI so any assitance needed we either go to the FAI or to the government, however everything is ran within states in Mexico. Local rivals of Atlas, Chivas have recently built a new stadium with thanks to the governor of that particular state helping out, a rather good plan in place that looks as if it’s successful.
On the other side of the spectrum though however with Finn Harps projected halted for several years now, makes me ask the question “are the older stadiums worth upgrading rather than rebuilding?” . Chivas who as mentioned the rivals of Felipe’s team have recently had a new stadium built but when he visited recently the atmosphere in his eyes was cold something that never occurs in Estadio Jalisco with the dated stands jumping whilst in party mode with ecstatic celebrations in place.
With everything done alone in the present day and age its a huge beneficiary especially with social media providing updates and highlights for those who are Global League of Ireland fans like Felipe.
To hear an alternative point of view on the league to me is something I could speak about all day with the passion that I have and will happily engage in conversation about anytime but to have someone interested in your own club and to share the same passion feels special.
One of many stories I’m sure to help justify why this could be The greatest league in the world.