In a recent football poll of uncertain demography, the Republic of Ireland fans were voted as being the best in the World Cup. We are so fond of repeating this mantra to ourselves, that we are in grave danger of actually believing it to be true. And if we believe it to be true, we are blinding ourselves to the reality that, rather than being the best fans in the world, we are no better, and in some cases much worse, than fans of other football nations.
In what way do we have the “best” fans? Perhaps its because we travel to away games in large numbers but never cause any trouble.
Let’s split that statement up. We travel to away games in large numbers. Isn’t it wonderful that we live in a largely affluent society that allows us to do so? Are we better football fans than the poor bastards in Senegal or Costa Rica, for whom a roof for a school or an AIDS awareness programme might be a slightly higher priority than a trip halfway around the world to watch a football tournament?
And, as far as travelling support goes, I doubt we’re among the most numerous. I guarantee there were more Portuguese in Lansdowne than there were Irish in Lisbon. And the same goes for the Dutch.
We never cause any trouble. Aren’t we great? We’re just like all but three or four other countries in the world. England, Holland, Germany and Turkey all have had various degrees of football hooliganism. We should congratulate ourselves that we’re better than them? We’re great because we don’t behave like scum?
Perhaps we’re the most loyal supporters in the world? Yes, we’re there with the Boys in Green through thick and thin. Although I remember being one of 14,000 people in Lansdowne Road who watched Denmark destroy us 4-1 in 1985. Sorry, I forgot - we weren’t particularly successful then, were we?
Much more recently, we had the Roy Keane incident, and the great Irish fans disgraced themselves once again. How often did we hear that it was Roy Keane who got us through the qualifying group? That the manager and the team didn’t stand a chance without him? Even that we hoped the country actually lost? How does this square up with calling ourselves the best supporters, when we can throw such an insult at the twenty-two players and the manager of our national team?
But we always respect other countries’ national anthems. For the most part, yes. Again, do we deserve a pat on the back for this? However, we think nothing of booing a player because of the team he plays for. Or think he plays for, as per the disgusting occasion at the recent friendly against Denmark. I hark back again to the eighties to a testimonial for Jimmy Holmes at Dalymount. A seventeen-year-old striker was booed every time he touched the ball, because he played for Linfield. At a charity match, for God’s sake!
But we always get behind the team! The crowd is like a twelfth man! Again, I’ve heard Lansdowne like a tomb when things haven’t been going our way. This has been blamed on the corporate block, yet the corporate block makes up only a small percentage of tickets sold. Face it, we only make noise when there’s something at stake and can’t be arsed in a meaningless friendly.
[And while I’m at it, for God’s sake, let’s drop the bloody “Fields of Athenry.” The Brazilians have their Samba music, the Spaniards, [and Longford], have their drummer, and we choose to gee our boys on with a dreary dirge about a 150-year-old corn stealer.]
But the main reason that we’re not the best supporters in the world is that we will spend thousands of pounds following the National team all around the world, yet we can’t make it down to Tolka or Richmond or Turner’s Cross on a Friday night. In this, I am not decrying the many League of Ireland supporters who also follow the Republic of Ireland. Fair play to them. They are true soccer supporters. But they are in a minority. Most Irish fans that were in Genoa or New York or Niigata wouldn’t be able to name three players in their domestic league. Ask them to name twelve black players who played for United, or when Larsson last scored a hat-trick, they’ll tell you no problem. But ask them what they think of the League of Ireland, and the reply will invariably contain a word that begins with sh and rhymes with white. Probe them further if they’ve ever been to a domestic match, and you’ll find they haven’t. But of course, they know its not very good, or words to that effect.
The question is, of course, do we deserve to have a successful national team while the domestic league is so badly supported? More supporters at league matches would generate more advertising and bring more money into the game. Having more money in the game might encourage fifteen-year-olds to stay at home rather than going to Port Vale reserve team for three years. As a result, the standards here would be raised, which in turn could only improve the National team.
Although, as every League of Ireland supporter knows, there’s not much wrong with the product at the moment. If you follow a team throughout a season, there’ll be some good games, some bad games and plenty of excitement. Probably fewer bad games than if you follow Liverpool, if truth be told.
But you’ll never get the Ole Ole brigade to understand this. Best supporters, me arse.