Stuart Byrne column: I’m delighted Keely’s ’42,000 morons’ comment has sparked debate
Stuey believes giving LOI players a profile and moving away from summer football are two moves which could attract fans.
I’M GLAD TO see that last night’s discussion on Soccer Republic about the recent friendly between Shamrock Rovers and a Liverpool XI has sparked some debate, especially on Twitter.
Dermot Keely said “42,000 morons” attended the game but I think the point he was trying to make was that a hell of a lot of people were effectively going to watch a reserve team. It sounded like he was finding it hard to understand that.
There’s a big difference between paying to see Liverpool’s first team and a second string of youngsters and fringe players. But because it was in the Aviva Stadium and the Liverpool ‘brand’ was attached to it, there was a novelty about the match and the people came out in their droves.
It must be frustrating from Dermot’s point of view — being born and bred in the League of Ireland. Even for myself, seeing that many people go out to watch a reserve team when we can’t get them to their local team is disappointing.
I would hope that last night’s programme can encourage more debate because we just don’t talk about it anymore. There is no attempt to get into the minds of these people or plan to find out why more don’t support our league.
Getting a reaction is great and I want fans to say what they feel so we can try and understand and move on from there.
There simply hasn’t been a big enough effort made to encourage new fans in my opinion. One of the last measures of note I can remember was a television ad from four or five years ago which was funded by the FAI and featured an old man walking around an empty Dalymount Park reminiscing about the past.
It looked horrendous and might as well have been saying: “If you’re over 70, come watch the League of Ireland”. It didn’t appeal to young fans, it didn’t appeal to families, and there was no attempt to make a connection.
We need to give profiles to players in the SSE Airtricity League. I would love to see more interviews like the one with Chris Forrester on Soccer Republic last night. That creates a link between the supporter and the player.
You look at rugby and the GAA and how they profile their best players — the likes of Bernard Brogan, Colm Cooper, Brian O’Driscoll, Jamie Heaslip.
In Irish football, the younger generation have no interest in the players because all they see is the likes of Steven Gerrard on advertisements. We need to start getting players on billboards, television ads… whatever.
You heard one of the fans talking last night about how he went to a League of Ireland game ten years ago and recalling how it was lashing rain. Is this guy for real? He went along and all he could think about was the weather. Does it not lash rain over in Anfield, no?
People perceive the League of Ireland to be something that it’s not and we’ve got to change that as well as a hundred other things. At the moment, we are doing nothing and the longer it goes on the more they’re going to think that way.
We need to show them players like Chris Forrester and say: “Have a look at this goal, look what this guy can do”.
You could debate it all day but there certainly are areas where we can improve. As a player who isn’t long out of the game, helping LOI players to become role models for kids could be a start.
I’ve mentioned it before but summer soccer isn’t doing us any favours either. We could be talking about this in 10 years and nothing may have changed because things take time, especially when you consider the mess Irish football finds itself in at the moment.
If there are changes you can make immediately or within a year, I would point to going back to playing during the old season.
We think about football between September and May in this country. When it comes to the summer months, it’s the GAA, holidays, BBQs, going to the pub on a Friday. They don’t associate the time of the year with going to a football match.
I felt as a player that when we changed to a summer season, the crowds would not be there in May, June and July. It’s a cultural thing. We don’t live a country where the weather is always nice so when it is, we tend to do other things.
For me, reverting back to the old season is a start and I think we need to go from there.
What's the story with Irish soccer then? Is the FAI only focused on the international team and doesn't pay much heed to the domestic league?
If the marketing is as bad as this article says it is, why is it so bad? Is the marketing function being micromanaged by an organization that doesn't do marketing very well or doesn't understand why it's important? If they hired a marketing agency or got their corporate sponsors to take care of it would they get better results?
Would a merging of the IFA and FAI* lead to better competition?
*I know, I know, "unlikely in the foreseeable future" and all, but humour me for the purposes of this discussion.