Irish football has no future if these are the scenes at our grounds
Published 21/10/2010 | 05:00
SO here we are again. Another major week in the League of Ireland concluding with senseless behaviour that develops into a bigger story than the football itself. Once more, the fans of Shamrock Rovers are in the dock.
In marketing, the optics are everything. There's no positive spin on the images of Hoops supporters wielding umbrellas like swordsmen, or becoming embroiled in an exchange of missiles. It creates perception or, in this case, reinforces it.
Michael O'Neill's stars produced a performance of immense courage on the pitch to the reach the FAI Cup final but the achievement was over-shadowed by the actions of those who spilled out on to the Inchicore playing surface and completely lost the run of themselves.
"We're trying to entice more people to come to the games," said St Patrick's Athletic boss, Pete Mahon. "But when they see that, they won't bother."
Speaking after the game, Shamrock Rovers chairman Jonathan Roche stressed his belief that when his club are involved in something, the incident gets blown out of proportion.
It is a familiar refrain from entrenched Hoops followers who, rightly, point out that other clubs have an undesirable element attached. Make no mistake about it, it is wrong to suggest that the League of Ireland's crowd trouble issues revolve around the actions of miscreant Rovers fans. Indeed, there were people in Saints colours who failed to cover themselves in glory while reacting to the encroachment.
Yet there is extra scrutiny of Rovers for good reason. Right now, they are on a pedestal, considered the future of Irish football, regardless of whether they have thrown away this year's league title to Bohemians.
With the biggest crowds, the best stadium and what seems to be a steady enough financial ship, they've got a real opportunity to make something happen and capitalise on a difficult time for their rivals.
You'll see the power of their name when the FAI Cup final with Sligo Rovers comes around. Those with a vague attachment to the club will come out of the woodwork, joining the new followers in Tallaght who have latched onto the good news story. It's a powerful brand, and there are plans to enhance the training facilities and further develop the schoolboy section to make it even stronger. All positive.
But it will be redundant work unless these sort of incidents stop recurring. Say what you want about the stewarding and policing, but the simple fact is that a league game in Dundalk was almost called off because of the actions of some Rovers fans, and the aftermath of an FAI Cup semi-final was marred because of shocking behaviour from certain individuals in the midst of a joyous pitch invasion. The pictures are damning.
The unfortunate reality of the League of Ireland is that it is constantly seeking to make itself attractive to those who know nothing of its realities.
A lot of Irish people don't understand why there is such a need for security and policing when fans of opposite teams happily sit together in other sports, where there is no talk of segregation.
Club officials might be able to offer some plausible reasons why there was trouble at a particular venue, or simply concede that they can't legislate for the actions of a few. Really though, it's not good enough.
If the domestic game is to thrive, it must create an image of being family friendly. Rovers, ironically, have been more pro-active than other clubs in that regard, introducing a family section at Tallaght stadium.
And yet, on Tuesday evening, you have St Patrick's Athletic's Philip Nolan talking about children leaving the Inchicore ground in tears. Will they come back? Will their parents want to bring them?
So, let's get real here. We can get immersed in a debate about whether one riot was as serious as another, or suggest that it was handbags compared to what went on 'back in the day', but it then becomes a points-scoring contest between clubs. The 'ostrich' approach.
If Rovers have really banned everyone involved in past indiscretions -- as the powers-that-be insist they have been -- then surely it's a concern that new troublemakers are emerging on the scene.
Just because other clubs have issues doesn't mean that Shamrock Rovers can afford to be complacent about what they might view as isolated incidents.
If they are to be the standard bearers for Irish football, then they have to set the example in responding to the events of Tuesday night.
Otherwise, everyone is fighting a losing battle.