Monday 23 October 2017

Have your say

Co-operation vital for League survival

As a League of Ireland fan, it is always welcome to see coverage of Ireland's domestic League in our national newspapers. Richard Sadlier's column [Aug 18] was no different, and with his time as CEO of St Patrick's Athletic behind him, Mr Sadlier made several valid points, including the fact that League of Ireland clubs must start to help themselves and stop waiting for someone else to 'fix' their problems. I would, however, make a couple of points.

Galway United still exists today in the hearts and minds of those who have spent the last number of years actively developing the Galway United Supporters' Trust. A football club has a history, a crest, memories, supporters and former players and managers – it is not solely a business entity that people can play with as they wish. It is surprising, therefore, that an organised group of fans, with the groundswell of support behind them, is not being actively encouraged to rekindle one of the most famous names in Irish football.

Monaghan United, likewise, still exists today. The people involved in the club were absolutely devastated by what happened last season and instead of receiving any support or understanding from their peers, they became the focus of blame.

Ask most League of Ireland fans, and their 'issue' with the Dublin Decider was not the 50,000 people attending the game – it was more to do with the fact that the majority attending would appear to have little interest in 'live' Irish football, and I include the national team's senior fixtures in that.

According to a recent UEFA report, 48 per cent of all top-flight clubs across Europe have crowds of less than 3,000. Perhaps if the LoI was not directly compared to a league that benefits from billions of pounds of TV money, it would be easier to see where it stands and what needs to be done to move it forward.

Speaking at the annual Supporters Direct conferencein June, UK academic John Beech pointed out that sustainability in football requires three things: sustainable football clubs, sustainable leagues and a sustainable game. Clubs struggle to achieve the first requirement on that list – given both the times we're in and the position they start from – but they also cannot achieve the second or third requirement without working with other stakeholders.

Finally, to suggest that 'franchising' clubs is the way to go is forgetting about the ideals and aspirations behind the likes of Dublin City and Sporting Fingal. Where are those clubs now? And not for the lack of effort or motivation from the people involved.

Instead, I would point out that because of funding from the European Commission and Supporters Direct Europe, a group of supporters' trusts – led by FORAS and Cork City FC – has spent much of the past 18 months raising awareness around Fan Ownership and its benefits in Ireland. Workshops in Spain, Sweden and Belgium heard about the progress being made within the League by a number of clubs and how others are seeking to follow suit.

Supporters are the most ambitious owners a club may have because while we would like to achieve success, we also want the club we own to flourish into the future. We want to see community outreach, improved coaching, larger crowds and better facilities – but after decades of underinvestment, change will not happen overnight and will only happen through co-operation.

The first step on this journey needs to be a moment of honesty from all. The League is far from perfect: clubs need to earn support by engaging with fans in more meaningful ways, supporters have to get involved – and all stakeholders have to work together to build something better for all as without each other it will be hard for anyone to survive.

Niamh O'Mahony (FORAS)

IRFU to blame for not acting faster

The collapse in ticket sales for Irish international rugby matches was starkly outlined within Brendan Fanning's report on Irish Rugby's hunt for a new national kit sponsor [Sept 1]. It is unforgivable that the IRFU allowed the quality of Irish Test rugby to drop to the point where people were no longer prepared to buy tickets.

Why did the IRFU persist with Declan Kidney as coach over the last number of years (when good performances would have been needed more than ever from a commercial point of view), when it was clear to many supporters (although not many of the press) that he was not taking the team in any ambitious direction?

Ireland's game under Mr Kidney was not progressive and was never designed to consistently challenge and beat the top-tier nations. This inertia was inevitably felt in our inability to beat even the second- or third-tier northern hemisphere sides.

If the IRFU had been able to see the wood from the trees, they would not now be in the ignominious (and scary) situation of having had to negotiate a staggering €25m overdraft in order to make up for the tickets which supporters ultimately refused to buy.

John B Reid

Sunday Independent

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