By a lonely harbour wall, She watched the last star falling
And that prison ship sailed out against the sky
Sure she’ll wait and hope and pray
For her love in Botany Bay.
Gerard Pique said he’d remember it for as long as he lives. 30,000 Irish fans, on the other side of Europe, belting out that staple of rare trips abroad – the Fields of Athenry. “That’s football” exclaimed Pique on his Twitter after his side hammered their Irish counterparts 4-0 in Gdansk. Ireland were out of Euro 2012, a ten-year wait for a major tournament hardly seemed worthwhile. And yet, the fans kept on singing. German and French television cut their commentary with five minutes left to listen to the Irish sing. English commentators roundly proclaimed Irish fans as the “best in the world”. Even Robin Van Persie and Fabrice Muamba, via twitter, joined in. And as a nation, we wallowed in it. The Sunday papers and morning radio talk shows jumped up and down on the corpse of Ireland’s Euro 2012 campaign while bombastically roaring about how good the fans were and how it’s great that we have something to smile about at last. Yes, it seemed like it was true. We, the Irish, love football.
Most of the press and public rounded on Roy Keane when he said otherwise, too. Keane, by his very nature a divisive figure in Ireland, wondered whether it was right that Irish fans and players should celebrate coming out of Euro 2012 with nothing to show for it. Yet, for some of us at home, the sight of all those Irish fans in Gdansk, along with many FAI administrators, made us feel a bit queasy.
How could the Irish fans be the best fans in the world when they don’t even bother to go to matches? The Aviva stadium is half-full for most international matches, but the lack of interest in football is felt most keenly in the Airtricity League. Today, Monaghan United announced that they would be leaving senior football.
Mons, struggling at the bottom of the Premier Division, had been in financial trouble for the past season. Chairman Jim McGlone tried to talk about “a new beginning” for the club this morning, but whatever that is, it’s unlikely to be any consolation for players or fans of the 33-year old club. Former Ireland under-21 international midfielder Stephen Maher said that he found out he had no club via Twitter. Manager Roddy Collins had been adamant that the newly-promoted Mons would stay up this season, but he and all of the club’s staff have had their contracts terminated.
Why did Monaghan go bust? Why is Monaghan United the latest in a long line of Irish clubs to go bust? The answer is simple. Not enough people support them. McGlone said in his statement that
[with] the club’s inability to tie down a anchor sponsor, coupled with the rising costs of membership of senior football and the lack of support from the national league… it was felt that no other option was available.
The lack of support from sponsors (and some would argue, the national league) mirrors the lack of support from fans. Monaghan’s record attendance (in their 3,500 capacity Gortakeegan stadium) was 3,000, but that was way back in their first season of League of Ireland football – 1985.
I don’t want to blame those 30,000 people out in Gdansk. True, some have saved up for months to go out and support the boys in green. Many have watched football for years now, convinced that watching British teams financed by capital from the four corners of the earth is a true experience of what it is to be a fan. For those few hard-working people who worked at Monaghan United, as well as the fans who did turn out to see them, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.
On trips to Monaghan, it’s quite common to see Celtic, Liverpool and Manchester United jerseys in abundance. I’ve never seen the blue-and-white stripes displayed on anyone on a non-matchday. The ‘terrace talk’ is of Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi, or of Ian Rush and Henrik Larsson – not of Billy Bagster or Seamus Finnegan. The ‘best fans in the world’ may be dedicated, but they are not dedicated to Irish football. Tolka Park, Dalymount, Terryland Park and the Carlisle Grounds are half empty, except when a ‘big’ British club comes to play a friendly. Do we really love football? Is singing a song about the Famine every ten years really supporting the sport? Is that football after all?
This wasn’t meant to be a rant. As I said, I don’t blame any fan of British football for supporting ‘their’ team. But if you do one thing after you come home from Poland with the memories of all the ‘great craic’ intact, go to see your local club.