Viva Aviva!

“Football’s coming home” the banner said.  It is like we never left however. Crowe’s pub is still the same and Guinness is being drank by the bucket load. Aviva is plastered everywhere; on the signs, the banners, the programs, the fanzines.

“A f*cking fiver for a pint, you’re having a laugh bud!! ” is the cry from across the bar from one disgruntled Northsider.

Ah yes, after four years of crossing the Liffey to watch the foreign game, we are back Southside, back in Lansdowne.

Ballsbridge is awash with red jerseys and Manchester United are in town. This game, has caused a lot of discontent amongst the League of Ireland brigade, tonight is not about Irish football. It is however, about the €410 million euro mass structure that is nestled away in the distance. As we walk parallel to the Dodder, nothing has changed.  Fire extinguishers, shopping trolleys and frilly knickers are embedded onto the riverbed and it still stinks like hell too.

Huge volumes of people are trying to go through the railway tunnel that is three feet wide. Nothing has changed here either, it’s a problem that graced the old stadium all these years and it looks like the new look version will maintain that tradition also. Eventually we get through the police barriers and as I am ushered through the purple entrance by the stadium stewards, my colleagues, all in a different section, are ushered another way. Entry to the stadium from here on in is painless. New look turnstiles, automatic and unmanned, are now in operation and pain free.

Tonight I am in the Upper East Stand and four flights of stairs separate me and my first view of the only completed home by Ireland’s construction industry in 2010. Once there, my first impression is “WOW!”.  We have all seen the pictures, but nothing beats walking into a stadium for the first time. It is indeed something for this country to be proud of and what should be the future of sports in this country.  As the game settles in, I gaze about trying to get an idea of every feature of the ground.

The North stand sitting to our left, sticks out like a sore thumb, but you have to admire the roofing set up and how it still maintains one entire structure, even though there is a huge difference in height. The upper tiers are very steep, not really a good idea to be up there with a feed of Dutch Gold in you, but the leg room and gap between the seats is huge. In terms of comfort, it beats Croke Park hands down. Likewise, the view is less Subbuteo-like than its Northside sister and indeed, it cannot be faulted one bit for complete viewing access to the pitch.

The match itself is nothing special, both teams are being supported by the fans and United are intent on putting on an exhibition. Half time sees a huge rush for the food and beer stalls, in fact I have never seen so many hungry people in the one place before. Food is expensive, beer is reasonably priced, but overall the stadium facilities are a bit infected with Celtic Tigerism. As the second half progressed and the lights are in full scope, the stadium looks magnificent against the Dublin background. We are treated to a 7-1 drubbing, but nobody cares about the game.  An attendance of 49,800 is announced, but it is quite clear that this is inflated. I would estimate that at least 3,000 seats are empty, mostly in the premium and corporate levels.

Exiting the stadium is not what it should be and it looks like more planning is needed. It is quite clear that people are not following their own exit routes and this is leading to congestion especially in the southern area of the Stadium. Our route along the Dodder is blocked, as the guards scream for the walkway to be shut amongst fears of a crush. Luckily, nobody is injured and eventually, everybody exits along the poorly light path.

As we nestle back into our pints in Crowe’s, the general consensus is that inside the Stadium is lovely and as good as you will see, but outside is still in the 60s and 70s. I cannot understand how they spent so much money and didn’t improve access along Lansdowne Road itself and along the Dodder. Anyway, there is another game next week and let us see how that goes…………………………..

……………..It’s Argentina this week and first impression is that there is a smaller crowd about. Traffic is virtually nonexistent and parking on the street is easily achieved. A quick pint is downed in Crowe’s again and as we walk to the stadium, it is clear that not only are people following the routes they are supposed to be this time, but also the official have their work done. The queue at the tunnel is shorter this week and as we proceed along the Dodder, a prominent FAI official is manning te corner where last week’s congestion occurred. It’s Upper East again this week and looks like the game is delayed by 10 minutes for some reason. Last week’s atmosphere was nonexistent, but that was to be expected. This week should be better but as the game goes on, that is not the case.

And this brings me to my first complaint and first fear for the new stadium, the atmosphere. Croke Park had a singing section and this group were in fine voice last night in the South Lower, however they lacked support pretty much anywhere else in the stadium. I would pin point this down to the fact that over 20% of capacity (11,000) is corporate and premium level. These tickets are overpriced ranging from anywhere from 60euro to 120euro depending on the game and the seat. The much maligned vantage club tickets cos thousands of Euros. These remain unsold and I would estimate over 3,000 of them were empty last night, meaning an attendance of 45,000 in general. This did and will in the future, affect the atmosphere.

Like last week, the game was a damp squid, maybe that affected the atmosphere, but I left the ground a bit disappointed that I have serious concerns that the famous “Lansdowne Roar” is lost to corporate greed. It may work well in other sports such as GAA and Rugby, but it does not have a home in football in Ireland. Outside this week, things are much better and we leave relatively easy and are back in Crowe’s within five minutes of leaving.

Homework done there and safer for everybody concerned, enough accounting for about 2,000 less people. Now, let’s hope they can fix the atmosphere, because this Irish team needs one.

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Ed Diggins

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