Vying for PromotionPosted: August 20, 2012
‘The football is back!’ or so we are led to believe by most. Yes, the juggernaut that is the Premiership has returned for another season of ups and downs, twists and turns. Over the summer, while our own League of Ireland has seen the loss of a team, so called ‘barstoolers’ have been lamenting their own loss of a footballing fix. And now, as these fans have just recovered from the ‘Aguerroooooo!’ moment, both domestic divisions gear themselves up for a frenetic finish at either end, having already seen their own 94th minute title robbing goal in the shape of Graham Cummins in 2011.
Most football fans in Ireland are blissfully unaware of that unforgettable moment, when Cork City scored a last minute winner in their bitter rival Shelboune’s back yard to rid the Tolkasiders of the title. And although most have heard of the many clubs that have folded in the past few years, little has been done to stem this worrying tide. With this in mind, it’s easy for League of Ireland fans to have a chip on their shoulder, or an inferiority complex. I mean, why do clubs wilt and die over here while people living five minutes away from their local ground spend the cost of a season ticket to fly abroad and watch one solitary game?
Sometimes it’s all too easy to make excuses for our own shortcomings, and in the league’s case this inferiority complex can often lead to a lack of action. As a matter of fact, this us-against-them attitude is absolute poison for our league. Not only do we use it as an excuse not to improve our own lot, but this cliquey distaste of all things across the water can often alienate those who visit a League of Ireland ground. Imagine being shunned by people from your own town, just because you choose to support a team in England? The irony of this anti-English sentiment among fans of an English game is lost amongst those who still resent the so called ‘Prawn Sandwich Brigade’, despite the fact that most League of Ireland fans harbour support for a team across the water.
One of these shortcomings is the substandard coverage of our league, in particular that by our own national broadcaster. While I realise their hearts in the right place, and 24 live games this season is not to be sniffed at along with a primetime hour-long highlights programme. The problem for me is their professionalism when it comes to the league. The aforementioned highlights programme is littered with factual inaccuracies, and despite its length actually shows little footballing action besides the minute or so match reports. While its guests talk incessantly over mostly trivial matters, goals are rarely replayed, and often important moments missed due to shoddy camerawork. Moreover, its blatant bias toward a certain club over its choice of games means that those who decide to dip their toes through television get a one-sided view of the league. While RTE’s teletext service often gets scores, scorers and team names wrong, and this feckless attitude toward our national league is unacceptable.
That being said, the league and its clubs are hardly experts in self-publicity themselves. The feeling of community is one of the strongest pulls for a LOI fan, and this aspect of local football is entirely missed. Yes, there is great football to be seen, and yes we’ve bred some of the best Irish footballers in the last few years, but the fact is that the league pales in comparison to its cross channel rival. Instead what we should be getting across is that collective feeling of belonging to something special. Turning up every Friday (or Saturday) and knowing that your presence is important, shouting abuse at an opposition player and getting a cheeky smile in return. The League of Ireland is one of the most interactive league’s anywhere at this level, where each individual fan adds to the game’s experience. Despite their small attendances, LOI games can have some of the best atmospheres and characters to be found anywhere! Not only is the league using the wrong angle, but it’s not working hard enough to establish its image in the local community, the obvious exceptions being Shamrock and Sligo Rovers. Little is being done to promote the league on a national stage through advertising or promotions, while clubs themselves simply aren’t doing enough to promote their own games to a wider audience. With the community spirit discussed kept in mind, surely it would be a good idea to promote clubs to ethnic and minority groups, as a regular social event. Also, more needs to be done to appeal to colleges, and each club should have a segment on local radio during their respective sports shows. The possibility for promotion is endless, and stretches far beyond any traditional mediums.
Though our league is going through a rough period, there’s most certainly light at the end of the tunnel; by changing our attitudes and being smart with promotion, that light will come sooner rather than later!