Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bringing the Game into Disrepute

Saturday afternoons, in my youth, were great and usually involved consuming large quantities of alcohol in the various hostelries in Wicklow town. Nowadays, having metamorphosed gradually into the archetypal middle-aged boring old fart, Saturday afternoons are a time for doing those mindlessly boring jobs that you can’t be arsed doing during the week – washing the car, hanging up a picture, cleaning shoes, washing windows etc etc. It was on the first of these – the fascinating occupation of removing layers of dirt from my Almeira – that I was engaged, when the host of Saturday Sport on RTE Radio 1 announced that they were going to have a discussion on the implications of the Genesis report.

Now, I’ll lay my cards on the table. I viewed the Genesis report in much the same way as I regarded the band of the same name i.e. with complete disinterest. There was very little of interest for the eircom League as it seemed to concentrate on some squabble on a North Pacific island. So I was about to put a John Otway cassette into the car tape deck, when mine host remarked that Pat Dolan and Ollie Byrne would be in studio to discuss the implications of the report. “Beware of the Flowers [Cos I’m Sure They’re Gonna Get You, Yeah]” was temporarily abandoned as I anticipated a potentially interesting argument between two of the eircom League’s larger than life protagonists.

Pat kicked off wearing his eircom League strip. Why had it been so long since a League of Ireland player had been capped at full international level? Why do our young players need to go to England in transition year and return home stigmatised by failure without an education at 17? The Genesis report had shown the FAI was in need of an overhaul, and eircom League issues had to be a part and parcel of the solution. Bit of a leap of imagination there, Pat, as the Genesis report barely mentioned, and had nothing to do with, the eircom League, but, hey, you’re batting on our side, get in the digs on our behalf, fair play to you.

Ollie’s turn now. Ollie unfortunately isn’t as fluent and smooth a speaker as Pat. Whatever about his ideas and principles, the fact is that he doesn’t come across as favourably as Pat. He started off by saying how honoured he was to be a member of the FAI. Er, the same FAI that’s just been slated as amateurish and incompetent in a professional report, Ollie? The FAI, in the persona of Ollie, bites back. Oh no, Ollie’s not going to take it up the ass like Menton and Corcoran and the rest.

Pat starts to say something and Ollie cuts him dead. “Excuse me, I didn’t interrupt you, so please don’t interrupt me.” Even politicians are starting to realise that that particularly hackneyed phrase is no longer going down very well with the electorate. Ollie is speaking slowly and deliberately and not very interestingly. Not quite as irritating as Bill Bagster, but getting there. The gist of his argument seems to be that the recommendations of the Genesis Report will be implemented in full and that the fact that the FAI commissioned the report in the first place is a step in the right direction.

In comes the Waterford chairman [Ger O’Brien, I think] on the telephone. He is asked about the difficulties of rural sides relative to Dublin sides. Rather unsurprisingly, he comes up with the difficulty of travel. Apparently, there is more travel involved for rural clubs. This surprised me so much I nearly put the squeegee through the wing mirror. He also agreed with his rather more famous counterparts that there was a lot of work in running a football club. For some reason, the words “Sherlock,” “shit” and “no” sprung to mind, though not necessarily in that particular order.

Time for a commercial break and I went inside to change the water. Obviously, a sea change occurred during the interval, because when I returned, Pat was in full flow.

Apparently, Pat is very sceptical of the ability of the FAI to change itself. The main reason he cited for this opinion was that the same officers of the FAI who had deducted points from one football club last season [who on earth could he be referring to?] had recently decided not to apply the letter of the law this season and had given Longford their points back. Apparently, if the letter of the law applied last year, it ought to apply this year. And it also appeared that those who shouted most loudly got their own way, he shouted loudly. Again, whoever could he have been referring to?

I had to admit at this stage I was cringing. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Pat’s comments had no relevance to the Genesis report – it was a self-serving, vicious and thinly-veiled attack on the man sitting opposite him in the studio. It was cheap and nasty and did nothing to further the debate.

Now, how would Ollie react? Would a man who advocated professionalism in all things reply in a professional manner? “Pat’s comments are irrelevant to the issue”? “I see no purpose in reopening old wounds..”? What kind of dignified response would elicit forth from those professional lips?

“The reason Pat’s got deducted the points last year was because a certain person told lies..” he began. I wondered idly who the “certain person” was. I put my hands up to my face and got a mouthful of suds. This could not be happening. Pat tried to interject and Ollie played his “I didn’t interrupt you” card. In all, he played it four times during the interview, which any media guru could have told him was a no-no.

Shane O’Donoghue tried to interject, and Ollie rounded on him, more or less accusing him of having got him there under false pretences. “I came here under the illusion that we were going to talk about the Genesis report,” wailed Ollie. “Its great radio for you, but it’s not what I came here for.”

At this point, the Waterford chairman did the Butros Butros Gali bit. “I don’t want to project myself as the good guy here,” he said - [Sorry, but appearing with these two clowns, Ger, you have no option] – “but there’s no point raking up old wounds.”

A good point, which begged a mature response

“It wasn’t me who started it,” said Ollie.

Pat then took up the cudgels again. There should be a blank piece of paper, he said. Why do we need 22 men on a committee? Implement the recommendations and get rid of the dead wood. Which would have been a fair enough point, if you were unaware at whom his comments were directly aimed at, and if you didn’t suspect there was a fair degree of personal animosity couched within the suggestion.

Back came Ollie. The FAI was going to implement the report in full. They were going to appoint professionals to run the organisation. But there would still be a need for the 22-man committee to decide policy and to tell the professionals what to do. I could almost hear the sound of 200,000 radio listeners hooting in derision. What on earth is the point of appointing professionals with large salaries if they aren’t allowed to formulate policy?

The Waterford chairman, although trying to be diplomatic, couldn’t but agree with Pat. A clean start, a blank sheet of paper.

Shane wrapped it up pretty quickly after that although you could imagine the acrimony in Montrose afterwards. It was one of the most bizarre debates I’ve ever heard and one which fills me with despair.

Here we had two of the most recognisable spokesmen for the eircom League sparring in the most immature and pathetic fashion on the public airwaves. How they expected, by their childish behaviour, to enhance the reputation of the league is beyond belief.

These are the two people who came out earlier in the season to pour cold water on the stories of antipathy between the two CEOs. As an example to the fans that the troubles between the two clubs were in the past, and the nasty atmosphere should be replaced by healthy rivalry, they metaphorically shook hands and slapped each other on their not-so-inconsiderable backs. Both Shels and Pats fans were relieved. We needed to draw a line in the sand [where have I heard that phrase before?] and start anew, afresh.

Last Saturday’s nasty little incident was like picking a scab too early. Vast amounts of noxious pus flowed out. Which is okay if you’re doing it at home, in private, but it’s not for public consumption.

Both men keep banging on about professionalism and the need for it in the eircom League. Yet the amateurish and immature way they conducted themselves on Saturday Sport would only have reinforced the beliefs of non-eL listeners that our league is run by petty, spiteful men who are more concerned with scoring cheap points against each other than with grappling with the real problems of the league. I would suggest there is a very good case for hauling both men up on a charge of bringing the game into disrepute. But that won’t happen.

I wonder why not.

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