For many years, I have met soccer fans who live and breathe their favourite team. Be it Cork City, Manchester United or Sheffield Wednesday. There is some contrast between these clubs. What I find bewildering, is that many Irish soccer fans pledge allegiance to a club they have no geographical allegiance to.
Of course certain teams have a “cult” like following in Ireland; Manchester United, Liverpool, Celtic, Everton, Chelsea etc. Chelsea have gained more devotees thanks to Roman Abramovich’s wealth and the success that it bought. No doubt Manchester City will join the list due to their newfound success. This does not apply to Ireland only. The same can be found in England, Scotland and Wales, much to the detriment of the local club.
I have never come across a GAA follower from Cork following the Kilkenny hurlers. The idea of a Limerick native following Leinster beggars belief. So why soccer only? The soccer fan is caught early on in life; were Bill Shankly, Matt Busby and Jock Stein all Jesuits?
I’m not criticising these fans. After all, it’s only a game. I would like to see clubs at a lower level benefit from more support. The T.V. payments to Premier League clubs are increasing, while the pressure on clubs to remain at the top level is immense.
Let’s take a look at Cork City. A supporter-run club for the last couple of seasons, you don’t get more community based than that. Their attendances vary from 2.5k up to around 4.5k. Match day tickets are relatively cheap. Twenty euro for an adult and child is reasonable. The stadium is all seated and 90% covered. If there was one criticism, it would be the food. It is overpriced but that’s the only downside.
Will the success of Premier League soccer and SKY coverage kill the professional game at a lower level? The FA cup in England was a huge competition. I emphasise “was” as the interest in the competition has waned. Lower league clubs would dream of a “big draw” in the Cup to boost their finances. Grounds would be packed for 5th round cup games. Now, they barely get 50% of capacity. The sight of empty seats being the norm.
There are fans out there who support their local club and the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool. I’d like to see more. If more fans do not, then given the ever increasing financial demands on small clubs, I can see smaller clubs folding. That can only be a negative for the sport.
Perhaps the future of the game is in more supporter run clubs like Cork City. In Germany it’s a huge success. German match tickets can be had for as little as a third of the English equivalent. The cost of a season ticket for a Bundesliga club can be 300% cheaper!
Sky has brought in many good things for the popularity of the game. Unfortunately, cost isn’t one of them.
Whether you are a Premier League fanatic or an armchair fan, take a visit to your local club from time to time. You might enjoy it and you will give much needed assistance to ‘your’ local club.
Kevin McCormack, Pundit Arena.