The long ball to nowhere? The new League of Ireland season starts tonight… March 8, 2013Posted by guestposter in League of Ireland.
From anarchaeologist, the first in a weekly slot – which will have various regular contributors – about the LoI…
Friday evening will see the opening fixtures of the 2013 Airtricity League — or the League of Ireland if you’re one of those who still refers to the Aviva as Landsdowne Road. Twelve teams (six of them from Dublin if you include Bray Wanderers) will begin the campaign for the premier division title with another eight squads contesting the first division. Where the premier division has its adherents (and there are several quite partisan readers regularly on the CLR), it’s from the cold, sparsely populated terraces of the first division that the longer historical view can be appreciated, along with something of an associated underlying poignancy. For here can be witnessed at first hand the ebb and flow of Irish football, with once great teams such as Finn Harps and Longford Town still walking out in front of the fans, more in hope than expectation that the end of the season will see an ascension to the giddy heights of the premiership.
League of Ireland coverage is desultory at the best of times. RTÉ broadcasts a match most Fridays in the season yet the League remains the poor cousin of the national team. Not that this should put you off. One of the closing matches last season with St. Pat’s making the trip up to the Showgrounds in Sligo was possibly one of the best games I’ve ever seen, one all the more enjoyable given the poor performance of Trappatoni’s squad at the Euros, not to mention the balls-up of the German game at Landsdowne Road.
A personal bugbear is the amount of national squad supporters who’d never consider supporting a local team. Why’s that? You get various excuses, mostly to do with the fact that the League is shit or, as one denizen of Phibsborough told me, because of the ‘violence’ manifested in the menagerie of Garda dogs and horses which regularly patrols the streets around Dalymount during a home game (and you get some of that in Tallaght and Inchicore as well). Indeed the weather is often cited and it would be a foolish fan indeed who’d travel to Bray Wanderers’ Carlisle Grounds without the benefit of the type of survival gear generally issued to special forces operating in the cooler reaches of the Antarctic. Indeed the micro-climate in Richmond Park encourages the rain to sweep in horizontally from the north, drenching those seeking the meagre shelter of the covered stand. Yet there’s an obvious argument to be made regarding the quality of the national team and indeed a separate, though related, discussion to be had on the FAI’s reluctance to spend any more than the odd tenner on the youth game.
Having said that, other more political developments in the game have been encouraging, with the League’s anti-racism stance being taken up with gusto, certainly by a majority of self-styled ‘ultras’ supporting the bigger Dublin clubs. Yet Shamrock Rovers’ supporters didn’t cover themselves in non-sectarian glory in their recent Setanta Cup tie with Linfield where Pat’s ultras were a little off the mark taunting the ostensibly neutral Glentoran away fans on the ‘fleg’ situation in Belfast. And then of course there’s the c word. To what extent is the invisibility of the LoI a function of the perception that it’s the domain of the great unwashed? It certainly wasn’t an issue when I were a lad.
Where various LoI Facebook pages frequently descend into the type of asinine doggerel you’d read on politics.ie, the emergence of sites such as extratime.ie and the occasional snippets on Come Here To Me more than make up for the lack of coverage elsewhere, where poshball, bogball and stickfighting remain hegemonic. One entertaining development has been one fan’s live coverage of the Saints’ foreign exploits last season, often via a dodgy wifi connection, featuring a string of expletives very much undeleted. Here on the CLR we hope to provide readers with more of a, ahem… political analysis of the League over the coming months. We’ll obviously be watching how the teams perform on the pitch, but we hope to look further behind the scenes and make some sense of the League as a social construct. For the League has its own psychodrama, its ups and downs (and mostly downs) are certainly as fascinating as those going-ons across the water, if only considered as a local, slightly tarnished mirror. When Manchester United are considering selling Wayne Rooney for £30 million (because he’s ‘fat and ugly’ according to the 10 year old unreconstituted Liverpool supporter I live with), it’s instructive to consider how many LoI stadia could be picked up for a fraction of that sum (most of those in Dublin, according to the young fella, and probably the Showgrounds as well, if only for the views).
Over the season we’ll be looking at the performances of teams such as Dundalk FC who barely held on to their place last season but who are back with a new management regime and buckets of optimism, despite losing a pre-season friendly to the once mighty Finn Harps. And on that note, we’ll be looking at the often ignored first division too.
So the games to watch tonight are Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers in Oriel Park, with the added frisson of the Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny being the recent recipient of a P45 from the
Scum Hoops. And of course there’s the Munster derby on Sunday between newcomers Limerick FC and Cork City (in Thomond Park of all places), where the young midfielder Gearoid Morrissey can be expected to send the Rebel Army home with 3 points. In the first division the clash between Waterford United and Finn Harps may provide an early indication as to which team will progress next season, with an optimistic few quid on the men from Donegal.