Wednesday 26 October 2016

One bleak view for everyone in the audience

Published 09/02/2009 | 00:00

It's come to something when the 'Late Late Show' is handing out World Cup qualifier tickets like vouchers for a weekend in a boutique hotel with zero occupancy.

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So instead of Phelim and Peggy getting balcony views of the local cooling tower, they get seats in the Hogan Stand to watch Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland try to outwit Hector Cuper's Georgia. This doesn't bode well. It smacks of a repository company booked into too big a theatre.

The team is undefeated in Group 8 but, short of rounding up customers on the end of an Ak47, it seems the FAI's chances of filling Croke Park on Wednesday carry the equivalent odds of Palestine hosting a G8 summit.

It's probably not all that surprising I suppose given that the country is awash with economists humming Leonard Cohen songs and one-trick media ponies turning every shard of bad news into another keening parable.

If the country is going down the plug hole, do we really need it to be to the accompaniment of Dipsy, Po and Lala getting off on the sound of their own voices?

Anyway, Friday's 'Late Late' promised tickets for Wednesday's game to "everyone

in the audience", a gift that would not have been within their remit in recent times. Actually, it's not that long ago that competitive international soccer matches sustained a thriving black market in this country.

Now, it seems, tickets are about as coveted as Afghan bank notes.

This is worrying for the FAI. The rental on Croke Park is €1.4m per game and, should Ireland fail to beat Georgia this week, the remaining home fixtures against Bulgaria next month and Italy and Montenegro in October will require a pretty hard sell.

Even the Italians, for all their status as world champions, don't carry quite the allure of the Baresi, Baggio days. A 'dead' October fixture, albeit on a Saturday, wouldn't exactly set the national pulse racing. At least not with recession hardening like concrete around the country's ankles.

Within the media, there is a kind of herd instinct to lampoon the FAI as basket cases and, no doubt, a poor result on Wednesday will feed that kind of ridicule. They have a history of not helping themselves. Just about every chief executive from here to Christendom has been all but frog-marched out of office.

The last three international managers essentially fell to a baying mob. Come to think of it, even Big Jack's departure had an unpleasant dynamic.

And, right now, the Association can't be finding it easy to seduce their corporate friends into buying (what look over-priced) boxes at the new Lansdowne Road when jobs are disappearing at such a terrifying rate. Then there are the quibbles about the scale of Trapattoni's salary and the potential compromise implicit in having it paid by a wealthy benefactor.

And, as for its decision to take control of a domestic league with a history of Monty Python auditing, you'd have to say the Association isn't exactly shying away from homework.

Yet, there is a transparency to how they do business now. And in John Delaney, they at least have a CEO who understands that the soccer community in this country extends beyond the pale. Traditionally, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse couldn't have dragged an FAI suit beyond Newlands Cross without back-up. Yet, Delaney pitches up in the smallest of clubs, imparting the message of the co-operative.

Of course, the national rugby team played so beautifully on Saturday against such gorgeous, extrovert visitors, it's a little hard to imagine Wednesday's fare looking anything but turgid by comparison. A fidgety nil-all will, undoubtedly, be thus depicted as some kind of philosophical statement.

The rugby boys lifting our embattled

spirits, the soccer boys just tipping chins back onto the pavement.

One of the troubles with recession is that gloom becomes self-perpetuating. The more it is hinted that purchasing a slice pan will soon require a Credit Union loan, the graver the economy's tumble. This applies just as obstinately to sport.

Over the coming days, Trapattoni's Ireland will struggle to be even seen in the glare now spilling off Declan Kidney's sunshine boys.

Perception is sure to curse them.

And the FAI will know that tickets priced from €50 to €85 for the privilege of spending a bitter Wednesday night in Croke Park aren't likely to make the heartstrings flutter just now. The pre-Christmas friendly against Poland would, after all, have borne a positively ghostly vibe but for the support of Dublin's Polish community.

Yet the team is unbeaten in Group 8 and, for all the qualms about Trapattoni's Benitez-like eccentricities with selection, Wednesday's tickets probably shouldn't be getting tossed out in bucketfuls to a patently underwhelmed TV studio audience.

What message did that send, you wonder, to those who had already purchased? Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Robbie Keane and Co are, after all, coming to Dublin on live business this week.

Why make it feel like they're pitching up at a stag?

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