Monday, January 29, 2007

All-Ireland League? But That Would Be Logical!

The old aphorism about sport and politics not mixing is slightly inaccurate, or at least poorly phrased. In actual fact, they do mix: frequently, and with terrible results. The statement should, therefore, read: "sport and politics do not mix well."

The truth of this was demonstrated in a discussion on BBC Northern Ireland's Season Ticket programme on Thursday last, following Irish foreign minister Dermot Ahern's quite reasonable remark that Ireland's two governing bodies in soccer, the FAI and the IFA, should merge.

Of course, when I say 'quite reasonable' I realise that the concept of reasonableness as applied to any matter relating to the partition of this island is utterly pointless. Logic is banished from discussions on cross-border relations quicker than Seán Bán Breathnach from a meeting of the Ulster-Scots society.

Lay the usual tribal neuroses of embattled minor football federations on top of that and you have a malodourous concoction that does, indeed, not mix well.

When the Season Ticket show came to address the matter, they dispensed with the prickly discussion of an All-Ireland national team. Fair enough - what mere chummy-natured sports magazine show would bring upon themselves a debate one step removed from the very elephant that sits in every room in the province.

They did, however, chew over the idea of an All-Ireland league. Well, they didn't quite chew it over, taking more of a small bite which they then proceeded to spit out like children being force-fed liver.

Reporter Gavin Andrews conducted a vox pop of local football fans who seemed more or less split on the question - I know, a divisive issue in Northern Ireland, whatever next?! - although those in support of the idea seemed suspiciously clad in the colours of Cliftonville, a team with a traditionally nationalist support.

The studio discussion, however, considered the matter with all the thoughtful consideration of George Bush contemplating the bombing of a Basra munitions factory.

First off, Roy Coyle, veteran former manager of Linfield, Derry City, Ards and Glentoran did the old switcheroo. "We shouldn't be talking about this, we should be talking about training facilities in the province, they are a disgrace," he harrumphed. Well Roy, we are talking about this.

Jim Gracey, chief sportswriter with the Sunday Life newspaper, at least allowed the subject the honour of precedence over mucky training fields. The jist of his dismissal of the idea was that it would prove too expensive for the clubs - in attempting to compete with their full-time rivals in the south and in travel costs - and for fans - travel costs again.

Gracey illustrated his case with the example of clubs like Loughgall, or Ards, having to travel somewhere like Cork, and the attendant costs involved.

At no point in the discussion were the possible benefits of an All-Ireland league considered. For example, the fact that an amalgamated league would create a larger marketplace for the product, which could lead improved television and sponsorship revenues.

Aside from financial rewards (which would presumably offset travelling costs), the improvement in standards that increased competition would bring would seem a logical (that word again) by-product of amalgamation, by simple dint of combination of the two leagues' stronger sides.

It would indeed be a chore for Loughgall to travel to Cork, but little more than it would be for Cork folk to have them. Obviously proponents of a unified league see more attraction in pitting clubs such as Linfield, Glentoran or Portadown against the likes of Shelbourne, Derry City and Cork City, than in dragging Loughgall and Ards far from home.

Fundamentally, surely the simple principal of maximising the meagre footballing resources of the island makes sense? The panellists on Season Ticket mentioned on several occasions how much of a success the Setanta Cup had been, then performed somersaults of reason to avoid acknowledging that the same benefits would accrue in an All-Ireland league.

Perhaps the politics that taint this argument are merely those of the sporting bodies involved; or perhaps the merging of the Irish footballing entities carries too much of the whiff of republicanism for some. Whatever, the logic of the argument for an amalgamated league seems to be another victim of the invariably foul brew of sport and politics.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

An all-Ireland soccer league would be a big step up from what currently exists.

But the longer soccer fans are happy with the inferior product of two Mickey Mouse leagues and two Mickey Mouse 'national' teams the better it is for other sports.

10:33 a.m.  
Blogger WatchingCartoons said...

Amalgamation is clearly the way forward - even if only collaborating to create an All Ireland League initially.

Unfortunately, intransigence will be the major obstacle to overcome. In pure sporting terms, it makes sense. In financial terms, there may be some arguments against, but I still feel that the positives could outweigh the negatives. The problem is that too many people are just stuck in their ways and will refuse to budge - nothing new there, "not an inch" anyone? It's the mentality of some who would rather see a poor league and poor national team than consider moving forward hand in hand with 'them'.

It's also pretty clear that there are a few suits, more concerned with free match tickets and first class flights than improving local football, who wouldn't be too enamoured by the prospect of the thinning down of staff.

1:03 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An amalgamation of the 2 Irish FAs is surely going to happen sooner or later! Why not sooner?

Firstly, it could merely start at the International level, with an all-Ireland team similar to the Rugby team. Surely a stronger team would emerge to compete competitively in future World Cups!

Secondly, stage 2, could involve a Premier League with 2 divisions, North & South. Teams could play 2 home and 2 away in their home Division and 1 home and away against teams in the other Division. A total of 32 games, 2 more than the teams play now in the Irish League. Travel costs would be minimal.
Thirdly, stage 3 could involve additional Divisions, with a revenue sharing arrangement from the Premier clubs to offset travel expenses...
1. Greater fan interest/support
2. Resultant increased revenues
3. Stronger National team
4. Enhanced advertising revenues
5. Attract world-wide fan base
6. Stadium improvements will follow
7. Junior interest will flourish
Come on you Irish Soccer Executives! Get rid of those blinkers, get off your duffs and MAKE IT HAPPEN!

4:27 p.m.  

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