Not so fast “Deaks”

30 09 2011
Last night I watched Shamrock Rovers fly the flag for part-time football in Europe. I sat there hoping they would score and they did. I sat there hoping they’d hold on, they didn’t. I sat there hoping the arsehole Stan Collymore would stop lecturing the players as he’s probably the least equipped ex-player to dish out corrective advice, he didn’t.
 
As  I sat there listening to the triumphalist roaring when Tottenham score I realised that romance has no place in modern football. I couldn’t quite work out why Rovers holding Spurs was such a bad thing for football, as if the assembled mandarins should  take Rovers’ temerity personally. Televised football is becoming one long drag.
 
At the other end of the scale other people are very happy that Rovers because they think they can use their European success  for their own ends (Rovers are the first Irish club to qualify for a group stage in European competition). Mr John Deakin used Rovers’ success as another opportunity to ride his hobby horse into the sunset. A couple of weeks ago “Deaks” said yet again that Summer football was the main reason that Irish clubs have been more succesful in Europe than Welsh clubs. Then he said yet again that summer football was the only way forward for Welsh football.
 
Well “Deaks” this argument is a misnomer. The progression of an Irish club to the group stage and the failure of Welsh clubs cannot be solely explained by the fact that Irish clubs play in the summer and the Welsh clubs don’t. There are several factors that mean Irish clubs are more likely to succeed in Europe .
 
– Firstly, Irish clubs are generally bigger than the clubs in the WPL. Even in their post Murdoch-effect shrinkage they are still able to attract  higher crowds than the Welsh Premier League clubs can. The attendance for the Irish Cup Final hovers around the 10,000 mark but can reach 20, 000 or even 30,000 whereas the Welsh Cup final is usually played in front of between 1-2,000 people. So the first point is that it’s easier for bigger clubs to have more success.
 
– Secondly, all clubs in the Irish republic play in their national system. Therefore all of the main settlements in Ireland (obviously featuring the biggest Irish clubs) are represented in the Irish system. As we all know Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Wrexham aren’t represented in Welsh domestic football.

The League of Wales didn’t go down the same route as Ukraine, Croatia, Slovenia et al  in the early 1990s. These newly independent Eastern European countries founded new national leagues that included all the strongest clubs within the boundaries of their administrations. Wales’ strongest clubs weren’t included in our national league, a fact leaves our national league, and the clubs within, with structural disadvantages compared to other national leagues.

– Thirdly, the Irish national league has been in existence for nearly 90 years, and Irish clubs have been competing in competing in European competition since the 1950s. This has not only provided lots of experience, it makes the Irish system a more mature system than the Welsh system and it’s seen as the only legitimate representation of domestic Irish football to the footballing world. Wales’ national league started in 1992 and its image is relatively weak, even in our country.

– Fourthly, the Irish system, and Irish history, has helped to provide the Irish clubs with an identity that attracts Irish fans. The sea between Ireland and Great Britain provides a natural barrier so people will naturally look more at home for entertainment anyway but when you consider the nationalistic/isolationist Irish position of the inter-war period you can see that there are grounds to argue that Irish fans will traditionally feel a strong identity towards Irish clubs. Basically, Irish fans are more inclined to support clubs in their country than Welsh fans are.

We all know about the pull of the premier league and it even affects Irish fans but there is a sea to put them off. In Wales we have direct roads and railways to the premier league. The Irish clubs are far greater symbols of identity and these fan identities pre-date the full coaches and planes to premier league matches from Ireland.

By the time the LOW started in 1992 a lot of Welsh fans had developed allegiances to clubs (Welsh and English) in the English system. It would be interesting to speculate what might have happened if a Welsh league had commenced at the same time as the football league in England.

Generally the more fans there are the greater the economic potential. In the most basic terms this means that Irish clubs can keep hold of players with a high ability, which Welsh clubs are not always able to do.

– Lastly, the Irish Sea acts as a barrier to players. In Britain it’s easy to move from the English to Welsh systems, or vice versa. Historically speaking the English system has symbolised progress for Welsh clubs and players. Fans and players still think in these terms today. It’s easy to lose good players if they catch the eye of a club at a “higher” level, when they leave it your chance of success leaves too.

On the other hand would an Irish player look at this journey as a way to success? Would they give up the chance of European football to join Barrow, Colwyn Bay or Kettering? To tempt an Irish player from the League of Ireland it would have to be the offer of at least League Football otherwise why would they consider moving?

Well “Deaks” that’s a little food for thought.

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