Friday 26 December 2014

FAI must come out and fight

Published 19/09/1998 | 00:11

JOE PUBLIC wants FA Premiership football on his doorstep in Dublin.A survey conducted on behalf of the Dublin International Sporting Committee (DISC) by Lansdowne Market Research indicates widespread support for the Dublin Dons proposal among those with an interest in soccer.

The fact that 64 per cent of those who either play the game, go to matches, just watch it on TV or read about it in newspapers and magazines say they are in favour of the idea is no great surprise.

Those of us who passionately believe that transplanting Wimbledon to Dublin ultimately would damage the game in this country, are well used to being shouted down in debate.

The tragedy is that the Irish soccer establishment offers very little in the way of a viable alternative to the masses of pub fans who are wooed by a weekly diet of Premiership action on Sky TV.

The Football Association of Ireland may be winning the war against Sam Hamamm when it comes to the rule book, especially since FIFA's AGM decided in June that clubs can move from one country to another only with the consent of the two national associations involved.

THE legal ground under their feet may be firm, for the moment, but they have a lot of work to do if their position is not to be eroded by a flowing tide of public opinion.

Yet, so far, the FAI has done little more than shout through the letterbox at Hammam, Kinnear and their supporters.

It is no longer enough for FAI Chief Executive Bernard O'Byrne to dismiss the Wimbledon proposal as a potential ``disaster for our Association'' and talk of the mandate they receive from within the Irish game.

Yes, many National League clubs have made enormous progress in recent years and are providing pitches and facilities which should encourage more punters to come and support the local game.

But the average soccer enthusiast will not be tempted out of doors by the promise of entertaining football in the local National League stadium. The multi-million pound promotion budget of Sky and the English Premiership will keep them pinned in their seats.

Men like Pat Dolan at St Pat's, Ollie Byrne at Shelbourne or Pat Devlin in Bray deserve immense credit for the varied ways in which they doggedly promote the cause.

Sadly, they are chipping away at a monolyth.

The FAI would serve a far more useful purpose if they abandoned the nagative stance they have adopted and went onto the attack.

For example, casual fans of English soccer in this country should be made aware of the motives behind the proposed Wimbledon move.

Sam Hammam and his Norwegian backers are not soccer missionaries keen to spread the word to their poor, deprived Dublin brethern.

And the prospect of playing FA Premiership Football in Dublin does not sound like a proposition lucrative enough to keep their attention in the long-term. The clever money in football is looking far further afield these days at the proposed European Super-League.

WIMBLEDON is a dead-end club in the shadow of Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs in London.

However, if they set up a viable, Premiership-standard operation in Dublin, their £100m-plus investment would almost certainly be rewarded with a money-spinning European Super-League franchise in the Irish capital.

You see, Dublin, as a large city in a vibrant economy, would be a plum location for a European League team.

The TV viewing figures for the current Champions League clealry indicate the enormous appetite for European football across the continent. Nearly 40m people in six major football countries across the continent tuned into the opening 12 games on Wednesday.

Granted, the vast majority got their pictures for free ... but the future is pay-per-view and at ony £5 a head per game, that sort of audience in France, Germany, Italy, Holland, the UK and Spain would generate £200m.

Another five Wednesdays on that scale and you are talking £1.2 billion. The potential spin-offs for those clubs or cities lucky to gain membership of the exclusive European League will make the £623m Rupert Murdoch has offered for Manchester United look like a bargain.

Especially, if they will all be able to negotiate independent TV rights for their matches.

If Wimbledon can pull together a business consortium capable of pitching for a place in Europe and reaping the inevitable rewards, perhaps the FAI might even investigate the possibility of an Irish alternative?

At the very least, they should take the initiative; acknowledge that they do not enjoy the support of the average soccer enthusiast and at least make an effort to win sympathy for a noble cause.

They will have to come out from behind the barricades.

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