Clubs left cold in shadow of Ireland fixtures
Published 06/09/2010 | 05:00
The change to the international football window was made for the benefit of club football in general, but for the League of Ireland it has introduced worrying new competition for already struggling clubs.
The move of high-profile internationals into the domestic game's traditional territory saw a drop in attendances at Friday night's series of matches and there is concern about the financial impact of moving matches to suit the international calendar.
Despite kicking off almost two hours after the final whistle had blown on Ireland's qualifier win over Armenia in Yerevan, gates on Friday were down on previous weeks.
And with the crucial European qualifier between Ireland and Russia taking place at the Aviva Stadium on Friday, October 8, an entire round of fixtures -- including two matches that could determine the destination of the title -- will have to be moved to avoid a clash.
League leaders Shamrock Rovers' match with Sporting Fingal and St Patrick's Athletic's duel with Bohemians, as well as home games for Dundalk, Galway United and UCD, will need to find new homes on the Saturday or Sunday, lessening the impact of what should be a marquee weekend for domestic football.
A spokesman for Dundalk, whose match against Bray Wanderers on Friday was watched by 1,100 fans, said moving their clash with Sligo Rovers away from the Russian game was necessary, but would come at a price.
"It would be out of the question to put it up against it," he said. "It would be ridiculous for those who would choose to go to Oriel to deny them the chance to go to see Ireland and it would be nonsensical from a revenue point of view.
"It's a perfect example. The match will be moved to either Saturday or Sunday; it will be at an irregular time and that is going to cost us. It will cost us in terms of attendance, it's going to cost us in terms of bar revenue. There is no doubt about it.
"In truth, it is very difficult to give anything other than a subjective view on (last Friday night) because there are so many factors involved in trying to compare the gate with Bray against the last time we played Bray or a game last season.
"Common sense would say that the more you discommode the regular schedule, the more difficult it becomes to attract the floating fan. We had an average of 2,500 at the start of the season, but trying to maintain that when you put games up against international day or move fixtures from the Friday night is a significant problem."
Shamrock Rovers attracted the highest crowd on Friday night, with 4,022 in attendance for their 1-0 win over Sligo Rovers in Tallaght, an increase on their outing against UCD in midweek, but down 400 on their win over Bray the previous Friday.
The north Dublin derby between Sporting Fingal and Bohemians brought 1,408 spectators through the gates at the Morton Stadium for a fixture that attracted more than double that amount on the opening day of the season at Dalymount Park.
UCD's draw with Drogheda United was attended by 345, while crowds at Terryland Park have been poor all season and Galway United's draw with St Pat's was watched by 762 fans.
Galway chief Nick Leeson admitted the clash in Armenia exacerbated a more general problem.
"Our crowds have been extremely disappointing all season," he said. "But coming off the back of some decent results and with St Pat's coming to town I would have expected a bigger crowd. A few people remarked to me that people would have been in the pub watching the Ireland game and stayed there.
"Whether it was more than 100 people, I don't know, because our crowds have been appalling. You can't just blame the day of the game; there's the continuing economic climate in this country."