Friday 24 November 2017

Outside the box: Clever fans know when to stay away

Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

I n order to sound intelligent, some people like to use words like schadenfreude and pathos, then chuck in a bit of hubris just to underline how clever they are. Others go deep into the well of Google to find something from Sun Tzu, Nietzsche or some other pundit of their era.

But, without wishing to insult the intelligence of this audience, here's a Simpsons quote from the time when Mr Burns boasted about putting a 100pc service charge on tickets issued by a recently purchased company. "It's a policy that ensures a healthy mix of the rich and the ignorant, sir," replied his ever-admiring assistant Smithers.

In the Ireland of the Celtic Tiger, such a mixture drove prices to the point where even the touts struggled to inflate them high enough outside of sold-out stadiums.

The game itself mattered less than being seen at the event with the result that organisers felt the need to employ somebody to "get the crowd going" before kick-off, usually in the most irritating way possible, or play music after the home team scored, regardless of whether they were winning or not.


Arguably the greatest bunch of rugby players the country has ever seen arrived and, suddenly, everybody wanted to be seen at the game even if, for many, ignorance of the rules was no great barrier to having a strongly voiced opinion.

Some of those who had supported their province or country were pushed off the bandwagon in much the same way as those who spent the 1960s, '70s and '80s watching Ireland's soccer team toil in vain to qualify for a major tournament before they were pilloried if they dared question the wisdom of Jack Charlton's football philosophy.

Since the Aviva Stadium opened, however, the lucky ones who can afford the ticket prices are weighing up their options but, happily, it seems that people are finally starting to question what they are told before deciding to commit their money. In the build-up to the Norway game, advertisements tried to convince people that they should fork out to watch a team who were "the perfect test for Trap's men", as they were top of their qualification group and 13th in the world rankings. Had they left out that they were playing Norway, a few more people might have turned up.

While attendances have been a source of rancour since the opening of the stadium, even the FAI didn't seem to be too excited by the arrival of the 500,000th person to the ground, judging by the attention they paid their press release last Friday and which remained on their website yesterday.

"When Brigid Schlebaum walked through the turnstile at Aviva Stadium last night for Ireland v Norway international he/she (sic) became the 500,000th fan to visit the stadium since its opening for the Combined Provinces Rugby game on July 31st.

"To mark the occasion the stadium presented him/here (sic) with 2 tickets to Ireland v Wales on 8th February in the Carling Four Nations International Football Tournament ... "

The millionth customer, assuming that it would have to be a better prize, should probably just be presented with one ticket.

If Brigid does make it back to the Aviva in February, the chances are he/she will have plenty of seats to choose from.

Friendlies are pointless enough in November, but asking players with six months of a season behind them to participate in games in February and May will produce the sort of going-through-the-motions acting that makes it so difficult to make decent sporting films.

There are those who will always want to watch Ireland in the flesh and, rather than abuse their loyalty, the structure must be in place to encourage them to games. If the players don't seem bothered, why should anyone else?

Eight days ago, over 30,000 came to the Aviva to watch Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers paying either €10 or €5 for the privilege. The FAI deserve credit for the decision to lower prices to such a level, yet of similar importance was that the game actually meant something.

There was precious little advertising around the game, and what there was steered away from the usual "support your local team" rubbish that has consistently failed to bring more people through the turnstiles of Irish clubs. It's unrealistic to expect prices to be at that level when more prestigious names come to town yet, by showing that supporters don't need to be force-fed ad-speak in order to make a decision, that game should mark a watershed.

Last week it was announced that Inter Milan would be coming to Dublin next July to face an Airtricity League XI and two other unnamed, but, we are assured, "top" clubs. The arrival of the recent Champions League winners will, no doubt, be greeted with fanfare to convince people to splash what little cash they have left on a glorified pre-season friendly.

Unfortunately for those trying to sell tickets, the people who want to be seen at an event and those who simply want to watch a decent match are rarely the same person.

Irish Independent

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