Saturday 21 September 2019

Frank Coughlan: 'Fans today just don't get kick out of football'

A general view of Aviva Stadium prior to the match between Ireland and Switzerland. Photo: Sportsfile
A general view of Aviva Stadium prior to the match between Ireland and Switzerland. Photo: Sportsfile
Frank Coughlan

Frank Coughlan

It's been a hectic week at the Aviva Stadium, or what some of us truculent dinosaurs still call Lansdowne, with three internationals in five days.

Tonight the Republic's footballers play Bulgaria in a warm-down friendly, last Thursday we had that topsy-turvy Euro qualifier against the Swiss, and, in between, our rugby goys took out Wales in a pre-Japan test.

That's a lot of stress on the turf and a lot of clicking of turnstiles. But that's all to the good, because there is very little that can compete with a day or night out with the mates at a match, be it a tantalising international or, when it comes to the GAA, hell-for-leather clashes across the river.

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It's the fans that make these occasions. But sports are evolving and so are the supporters themselves.

I noticed this most forcibly when I went to see Arsenal at their state-of-the-art Emirates stadium two seasons back.

I had been at glorious old Highbury many times and the place was always hopping. This time though I was surrounded by people more interested in dead-eyeing their smart phones.

They were, I realised, consumers at an event rather than football supporters at a match. In the Premier League this is about genuine working-class fans being priced out of the game, but it goes deeper than that too.

Last Thursday we took our place at high altitude in Lansdowne's East Stand in good time. We were puzzled at how few were in their seats. But in the five minutes before kick-off and the 10 after, supporters streamed in like rush-hour commuters. Many were hardly sitting before they were mumbling excuses and shuffling down the aisles to stock up on post-pint fast food.

Others, smart phones super-glued to their palms, scrolled, selfied and messaged their way through the whole experience.

The lads right in front of us formed a huddle to watch YouTube at one point. The match just had to get on without them.

Then, with 15 minutes to go and the game on a knife-edge, fans began to drift like lactating cattle towards the exits. It was as if their attention span had maxed-out, their udders full.

The evolution of the die-hard fan to a take-it-or-leave-it client who follows brands and franchises rather than club or country is just another aspect of a multi-choice, disposable culture.

But sport can't thrive like that. It has to be about passion, loyalty and believing.

Those old values are still evident in the unfashionable and undervalued League of Ireland precisely because its lack of brand cool makes it unattractive to the sort of arrivistes it doesn't want anyway.

The GAA, blessed to be exempt from the vulgar temptations of global sport, is mostly immune too.

Me? I was wedged into my seat for the full 95 minutes. Except when I leapt out of it for that goal, of course.

Fixing UK's problems in three simple steps

I take no pleasure in watching the slow-motion car crash unfolding in Britain if only because we are likely to get very severe whiplash and have no one to sue.

If the UK has a future, here are three things our noisy neighbour needs to do when Jacob Rees-Mogg's dandruff settles.

Firstly, get itself a proper constitution. The one it has isn't worth the paper it's not written on.

Then it should shed its primitive first-past-the-post voting system that stacks the seats in favour of big political tribes.

Finally, parliament must get out of Westminster, a mausoleum weighed down by its own self-regarding history and stuffy rituals, and move somewhere less panto.

You're welcome, Ma'am.

Irish Independent

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