Rob Lyons looks back at a time when the League of Ireland regularly played games around the festive period and discusses how much the league has changed since those wintery days of football concluded.
At this nostalgic time of year we often remember how things used to be, and for this writer, in particular how domestic football used to be.
Festive period games were commonplace in the League of Ireland until the powers that be decided the seasons must change. Muddy pitches and drenched terraces often stood in place of the seated stands and pristine pitches we see today. Amateur football, not professionalism was the norm.
However, in 2003 the league we all had known and loved changed forever. To say there were some who questioned it’s good intentions would be an understatement but we eventually became accustomed to swapping our scarves for shorts as the league was about to enter into what some may call it’s modern golden era.
However, there is much to miss about winter games. Getting out of the house, distracting oneself from the stress and strains of Christmas shopping, a reprieve to go and enjoy some footballing entertainment.
Those were the days eh? This writer isn’t so sure. Many would dream of the day of going back to cold winter days and rain-sodden pitches in the name of tradition and often convenience.
However, this writer sees the changing of the seasons as one of the best decisions Ireland’s footballing authorities have ever made.
It would be the height of ignorance to believe that the massive financial boom the country experienced during this period did’t have any role to play in this successful time. Some of the clubs during this time did of course live outside their means, which was to all become clear in the late noughties.
However, the introduction of summer football made the transition from mostly amateurism to professionalism all the more smoother. Football in Ireland had shifted it’s goalposts, erected it’s floodlights and was ready for this country’s football to become ‘sexy’ again.
It hadn’t been since the 1970s and at a stretch the ’80s that the League of Ireland was capable of grabbing the attention of the nation. By no means was the league competing with the level of interest within the GAA and rugby communities, but domestic football looked as though it was prepared to hold it’s own once again on the national stage.
So how much did football improve in this time?
Professionalism reached an all-time high with clubs making changes that had never been seen and Ireland became a place were young, up and coming talent could learn their trade and be paid for it while still having aspirations of eventually making a move to England to ply their trade.
Glen Crowe, Jason Byrne and Joe Gamble were all LOI players at the time when they became full Irish internationals. Something that, up until the introduction of summer football would have been considered unthinkable.
Ireland’s UEFA coefficient also rose considerably in a short space of time due to better preparation ahead of European qualification games. In the 2002/03 season Ireland were ranked 39th but by 2009/10 Ireland had reached a high point of 29th; quite an achievement for a country which had only embraced professionalism on a full scale basis less than ten years previously.
Winter football remains a distant and nostalgic Christmas memory and for some a sore one as they would give anything to return to those cold winter outings. Many would love to swap sunny Friday and Saturday evenings for those cold Santa hat-wearing days.
The switch to summer football has without doubt changed Irish football forever. Some want the winter games back, others are infuriated by the very notion. This writer says bring on March…
Happy Christmas Pundit Arena readers.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena
Featured image By Jackpollock (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons