Thursday, 21 June 2012

Another look at Irish football fans.

I'm sure you're all aware of the phenomenal support shown by the Irish supporters throughout the group stage of the 2012 European Championships in Poland and The Ukraine. It cannot be argued that the support was admirable, I just want to raise the question: Why isn't it always like this?

It was spine-tingling to hear 'The Fields of Athenry' being sang loudly and proudly in Poznan and Gdansk, despite being 3-1, 4-0 and 2-0 down at the time. The national anthem was also roared with such pride it had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up as a sat in my sitting room. The atmosphere from the stadium really did transfer through to myself and everyone at home - which is rare for a football match's atmosphere to be so clear when watching at home. The fans received a lot of press attention. The media jumped onto the support and Irish players often spoke of the brilliant atmosphere created by their fans. This glossed over a lot of on-field problems for the Irish, but I'm not going to discuss those problems (in this blog anyway, maybe another time.)

During the qualifying stage for the championships, the Irish support was poor. The attendances varied between 33'000 and 50'000. The one game that reached an attendance of 50'000 was the major game against Russia. This makes you wonder, who were the fans there for on that occasion? On more than one occasion there was only between 33'000 and 35'000 seats occupied in the 52'000 capacity stadium. This lack of supported was particularly highlighted during the Carling Nations Cup. The highest attendance seen for any of these games was 20'800 for the Republic of Ireland's clash with Wales. This is staggering when you consider that the domestic cup final attracted a crowd of 36'00 for a game between Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers. The League of Ireland is a very poorly supported league, yet the cup final still sold more tickets than a match in an international tournament that Ireland had a great chance of winning (which they did in the end.)

The Airtricity League of Ireland is an extremely poorly supported league. The title of 'Best fans in the world' that has been given to the Irish in recent days is extremely frustrating for this reason. If you were to visit any League of Ireland ground on a match day you will see that Irish fans are certainly not the best in the world. Far from it, in fact. My local team - Bray Wanderers would be happy to get 1'000 in the gate for a home game. Bray is a town of over 30'000 people, just outside Dublin. It is the only League of Ireland team in the county of Wicklow and is extremely accessible due to the road layout of the area. There is no excuse for attendances of this figure. It is shameful that in an area so passionate about sport and football in particular that attendances can be this low. It was not always like this for our domestic game, this is highlighted excellently in the book 'Who Stole Our Game? : The fall and fall of Irish soccer' by author Daire Whelan.

There is a huge following of the English football here in Ireland. I have nothing against this, I too support an English team but I also attend every game that my local team play. I do not support an English team at the expense of an Irish team. Sadly, many people do. If you were to visit Dublin airport in the early hours of a Saturday morning, you would find thousands of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Celtic jerseys. Thousands of supporters jetting off to see their favorite teams play. Unfortunately the support of the overseas leagues cannot be replicated in our own. I would imagine that more Irish fans visit their preferred English teams every weekend than many LOI teams get through their gates on a Friday evening. The league has attempted to tackle this problem. Everybody knows it cannot compete with the Barclays Premier League. The season runs from March to November, meaning the bulk of the season is played during the summer when the English teams are off on their holidays. Even for the time when the games overlap it isn't a problem because they are played on a Friday evening. What better way to end a week at work than to go and watch the football? The league has a bad reputation for having a poor standard of players and football in general. I do not necessarily agree with this belief. The likes of Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Stephen Ward, Keith Fahey and more recently Seamus Coleman and James McClean all left the league to go on to becoming full internationals. A year ago James McClean was playing for Derry City, most Irish fans had never heard of him. Suddenly, he moves to Sunderland and the whole country wants him in the national team. Did he become world class on the plane to England? I don't think so. Much of his development as a player came from playing on a regular basis for a team in a competitive league. As far as the quality of football goes, I couldn't disagree more with the thought that it is poor. Teams like Sligo Rover, St Patricks Athletic and even minnows UCD play some brilliant football and are thoroughly enjoyable to watch.

The lack of support for domestic teams has unfortunately been catastrophic. Too many teams have faced severe financial problems in the recent history of the league and many teams have ceased to exist. Dublin City, Sporting Fingal, Galway United, Cobh Ramblers and even Cork City have all come to an end in the last ten years. Luckily, Cork City have reformed under a new name and are now back in the league and Cobh Ramblers are in the lower leagues of Irish football trying to fight their way back up to the top two tiers.  The most fascinating case, for me anyway was Monaghan United. Recently promoted to the Premier Division, half way through the season Monaghan pulled out of the league. They simply could not afford to go on. This happened on the very day that Ireland played in the European Championships. This was extremely hard to take for all of us who follow the league. It is madness to think that while Irish fans are being praised as the best in the world, a team in their own country has to pull out of the league. I obviously understand that supporters cannot solely be held accountable for a teams financial problems, but, with more support comes more money. 

To conclude, yes the support of the national team in the three games of the European Championships has been nothing short of sensational. Irish fans however have no right to accept the label as 'The Best in the World' when their regular support of the national team is extremely questionable and they allow their domestic league to rot away as it has been left to do.


  1. I have to completely agree with ya. irish fans rvel in being called the greatest but there is something in the mindset that says no to LOI can't understand it myself as nothing beats live football

  2. Thanks for an very interesting blog. I've no experience what so ever of Irish league football and have always wondered how it is possible for such a small country with such an unknown league to every now and then qualify for major championships.

    Now I had the fortune to experience the Irish fans in the city centre of Poznan and in the stadium during the game against Italy. I was really amazed and had two incredible days drinking and singing with the Irish.

    I come from Finland and we never ever qualify for anything big and I'm quite sure the standard of the Finnish league is much worse than the standard of the Irish league. The thing we have in common is the attendances. The national team can draw very big crowds when they play against big teams but the attendances on league games are very low.

    My question now is if you think that the interest around the Irish league will grow as a result of the success and the attention the Irish fans got in Poland? I think it should be in the interest of every Irish fan to support their local teams to enable them to develope more talented players.

    I'm quite sure the national team won't have any problems selling out their games in the qualifying phase for the World Cup in Brazil. In fact I'm thinking about coming to Dublin to watch a game or two myself. I just got so hooked on the feeling the Irish fans can create when they show their best side! :)

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jens!

      I honestly don't think there will be any change in the attendances of the League of Ireland matches. We have qualified for relatively recent tournaments such as the 2002 World Cup but there was no effect on the domestic league. It's horrible to see the teams here so poorly supported.

      As far as the 2014 qualification goes, I do think it will be a problem to sell out for most of the matches. We should sell out for the Germany game and maybe close to full attendance for the Sweden match. Other than that, we play Austria, Faroe Islands and Kazakhstan and I think there will be a lot of empty seats for these matches.

      If you come I guarantee you will enjoy your trip in Dublin, it is a nice city and everybody who visits has good things to say about it. However, I think you might be disappointed with the match. The atmosphere is rarely good for a home game unless it is of major importance so I would recommend trying to visit for the Germany match as that would create the best atmosphere. Usually for the smaller games the stadium is half empty and it is quiet and boring in the stands. Irish fans usually create a better atmosphere away from home and if you're from Finland you could attend the match in Sweden when Ireland play there, the atmosphere may be better than any created at home. Just a suggestion though!

      Thank you for reading & I appreciate the comment! :)

    2. Thanks for the reply Conor!

      I actually live in Norway now but Sweden is still closer than Ireland! :) The Swedes also have good fans and I think that the Euro 2012 would have been a lot more colourless without the Irish and the Swedish supporters. At most other games the vast majority of the crowd have been either from Poland or Ukraine. I was at the quarter final between the Czech Republic and Portugal and it felt very weird to hear the crowd shout "Polska, Polska..." when the Czechs were pushing forward to try and get an equalizer during the final minutes of the game. Even during the game between England and Italy you could hear the crowd chant "Ukraina, Ukraina..."

      You actually describe the Irish supporters the way I pictured them to be. I think it's quite common that the away support is better than the support at home. When I still was living in Finland I was a big fan of our local ice hockey team and always stood with the fans in the stands. We had a great group of fans who chanted and cheered the team onwards. But whenever we went to an away game the group of people who actually dared to sing and cheer seemed to at least double in size. People who never would even dream on opening their mouths on home games where going totally crazy on the away games. The reason behind this behaviour is probably the same as with the Irish fans, people tend to drink a whole lot more when they go away from home! :)

      I've been to Dublin once already and really enjoyed my stay there so I know it's a great city. So I might go there again even if I decide to spend my football money on a trip somewhere else.

      I think many leagues have problems with low attendances nowadays. I already mentioned Finland and I know that both the Norwegian and the Swedish league are struggling and after many good years the attendance development have turned sharply downwards. Especially here in Norway I think it has a lot to with very high ticket prices. You just don't get your money's worth when you attend a Norwegian game anymore.

      Germany is a fantastic football country. You can get Bundesliga tickets for as cheap as 10 euros and the most expensive tickets are hardly ever much more than 50 euros. The stadiums are almost always sold out and the atmosphere is amazing. You can drink your beer in the stands and fans from both teams usually get along really well.

      I hope I'm not boring you with my thoughts! :) This comment also got pretty long! :)

    3. I enjoyed the sight of the Swedish fans because they really brought a lot of colour to the matches they played in. The yellow & blue in the stadium was a brilliant sight and I was very upset that they never managed to make it out of the group.

      You're spot on their Jens. Away support is nearly always better than home support. I've always noticed that when I go to away games involving my team and even when watching the Premier League on tv you can always hear the away fans much more clearly than the home.

      The Bundesliga is amazing. Every league should model itself on the way that league is run. For ticket prices to be that cheap is absolutely brilliant and makes me wonder why more leagues don't follow their lead? Most people involved with football are too greedy and they know that people will pay the high prices so they don't want to lower the ticket prices. It really is a terrible shame. I really want to go to a few German matches in the next few years. I'm only 18 so I'll need to get a job and some money first! Haha! Have you been before? Would you recommend any teams in particular? I would love to go and see FC ST Pauli. They really are an incredible and inspirational club.

      No you're not boring me at all! I'm really enjoying hearing what you have to say and I'm flattered that you're taking the time and interest to comment on my piece! :)

  3. Sorry I haven't replied until now.

    I think Sweden had problems adjusting to the more offensive tactics that Hamrén tried to implement. It worked well in the qualifications but when the opponents got tougher the players didn't really live up to the expectations. It's quite a coincidence in fact that both the teams with the best support were among the first teams to go home. Actually the four teams with the best support where among the first teams to go because for obvious reasons both Poland and the Ukraine enjoyed massive support in the stands.

    I've been to a couple of Bundesliga games in Munich and one in Berlin and then I've also seen a second league game in Munich. The first game I saw in Munich was at the old Olympic Stadium and the other two at the Allianz Arena. The Allianz Arena is an incredible stadium and it was easy to see that it had been the model for many of the EURO 2012 stadiums.

    I would also love to go to a FC St. Pauli game. They have incredible fans. I'm also dreaming about going to Dortmund one day. They always sell out their games and that's quite amazing when you regard the fact that their stadium takes over 80.000 specators. The atmosphere at their games is supposed to be electric. FC Schalke 04 also have amazing support at home and Munich is always a safe bet if you want a great football experience.

    Most teams play at modern stadiums in front of capacity crowds so I really don't think it does matter where you go if you get the chance. Hertha Berlin also had amazing support when we went to see them last year but they were relegated to the second league and I don't think the crowds will be big enough to create the same atmosphere this season. The Olympic Stadium takes over 77.000 specators and I think they usually have about 30 - 40.000 in the second league. But if you happen to be in Berlin when they play local rivals Union Berlin you will most certainly experience a packed stadium.

    I've been to a couple of games in England too and although the atmosphere is great there too I like the atmosphere at the games in Germany better. Everything is much more friendly and you hardly ever experience any rude language or violence among supporters of different teams. They're usually good friends both before and after the games! :)

    Feel free to ask if you have some more questions about the Bundesliga! :)