‘The Irish are the best fans in the world.’ – This is a phrase I’ve never liked, though seems to be the general consensus worldwide.
From an outsider’s perspective, it would certainly appear to be the case as the Irish never fail to bring an array of colour, deafening noise, not to mention impeccable behaviour wherever they go, and we can expect no different when an estimated 50,000 set off to France for the European Championships this summer.
Nobody could ever dispute those facts. However, I can’t help but cringe for a variety of reasons when I hear people say that we’re the greatest football supporters on the planet.
Sure, over 70,000 may have applied for Euro 2016 tickets, but may I remind you that attendances for three of our qualifiers at the Aviva Stadium were below 50,000 – most notably against Georgia, which was a crucial match yet managed to attract just over 27,000.
Inflated prices have no doubt contributed to that, but tickets for Ireland’s group matches in June can cost up to €145 each. I suppose watching matches abroad as opposed to at home is just an Irish thing in general.
Approximately 125,000 travel to watch club football in Britain every year, topping their list of foreign visitors. Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that in itself but one has to wonder how much of that figure attends SSE Airtricity League matches also?
The domestic game in Ireland has so much to offer, yet attendances for even the top clubs rarely surpasses 3,000. It’s not as though the public are being priced out of live football like they are in other nations either – €15 is the standard price for matches throughout the country and represents great value considering the quality of the product.
So what are the excuses? One of the most commonly used is that the facilities aren’t up to scratch. That may be true in many cases, some of the grounds have become dilapidated over time but the reason for that is down to the very same people using this excuse. They won’t support the clubs, so how can they afford to upgrade exactly?
Despite all this, plans for improvements are actually in place across the league. Dalymount Park is to be redeveloped into a 10,000 all-seater stadium, while reconstruction has already started at The Brandywell and Tallaght Stadium is also to get a third stand, increasing its capacity to 8,500. It remains to be seen whether this will improve attendances or not.
Another excuse is that the quality of football doesn’t compare to England. Again, nobody could dispute that and in truth nobody ever has, though it’s beside the point.
Having said that, throughout the Republic’s Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, Martin O’Neill used no fewer than nine players who once plied their trade in the League of Ireland; Wes Hoolahan, James McClean, Shane Long, Seamus Coleman, Stephen Ward, Daryl Murphy, David Meyler, David Forde and Kevin Doyle.
Now the typical Irish football fan would undoubtedly be shocked to find that Hoolahan is in fact almost 34-years-old and would probably have no clue that he won three League of Ireland titles more than ten years ago with Shelbourne.
Ignore the players while they’re here and worship them after they move overseas seems to be the attitude amongst the majority of the soccer community in this country.
And yes, we may bring a lot to major championships for the world to admire, but it’s easy to support a winning team. We continuously slate our own football yet pay hundreds of euros to watch second-rate English sides. It again raises the question, are we really the best fans in the world?