Sunday 17 November 2019

Saints get glimpse of how other half lives


WHEN football's princes met the paupers last week, there was no re-run of David and Goliath. The princes of Hannover 96 strolled to a 3-0 win over the League of Ireland paupers, St Patrick's Athletic, in a Europa League qualifying round tie at Tallaght Stadium.

Right from the moment this game was announced, the Bundesliga giants flexed their considerable financial muscle to make sure there were no hiccups on their way into the play-off stage of the Europa League.

They sent six of their administrative staff to Dublin to suss out hotels -- they chose to stay in the Four Seasons in Ballsbridge -- the stadium in which the game would be played, and to take 1,500 tickets for the game back to their fans. They also bought 20 Umbro footballs for their players to train with, as they use a different ball in Germany.

St Pat's, in comparison, have only two full-time staff, and even last Thursday couldn't confirm which hotel they were staying in for Thursday's return leg. Hannover travelled in style, with the team arriving in Dublin on their own charter, while the club president followed in his own jet, with his own entourage. St Pat's will travel on regular scheduled flights, with a coach connection to Hannover.

"It's a difference in budgets," explained St Pat's director Phil Mooney. "Hannover have a budget of €55m, while our budget is less than €1m. To have got to where we are is a miracle. It seems that the players who sign up for Pat's each year have this European thing."

Dave Campbell, whose uncle Noel Campbell is the only Irish international to have played in the Bundesliga, provided some more facts to emphasise the disparity between the resources of the teams.

"Hannover's weekly wage bill is €600,000, which is far in excess of our wage bill for one year," he explained. "They also have 18 full-time coaching staff for the first team."

Campbell reckons that Hannover have 18 millionaires playing for them and, last Thursday, while they were preparing for the game with a stroll through leafy Herbert Park, St Pat's squad member Pat Flynn was busy on his day's work for Coca Cola.

"The team that started," Campbell added, "included eight full internationals, who had a total of 248 caps between them, and the other three were German under 21 internationals. That's what we were up against."

Even though Hannover are not in the top half of Bundesliga clubs, budget-wise, they average a healthy 40,000 at their home games. It's a common theme in German football, where the average attendances are the highest in Europe -- and their ticket prices are among the cheapest. It's possible to get a standing season ticket for €160, while for seating it only rises to €300. A ticket for a single game can be as low as €15, similar to the League of Ireland.

TV money and massive sponsorships make up the difference in a country where football is king. St Pat's benefited from this, as a German TV station paid to air the game live. This time last year, midfielder James Chambers was with Hamilton Academical preparing for a season in the Scottish First Division, but it didn't work out, and he cut his ties with the club last December.

"Cork and Pat's approached me and I felt that Pat's were right for what I wanted to do," he said. "I have massive respect for Liam Buckley and coach Trevor Croly."

In the past, with Shelbourne and Shamrock Rovers, Chambers believes the fans didn't see the best of him. "Shels played me at right-full, which didn't suit me. My versatility went against me, and that happened at Rovers as well. Now I'm playing in a position, central midfield, where the manager uses my strengths."

Chambers, renowned for his slide-rule passes and excellent delivery at set-pieces, has been one of the best signings manager Buckley made, and he didn't look out of his depth against the German giants. He's certainly up for the challenge of the second leg.

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