“While one may question the passion validly, the curiosity will never be satisfied until experienced.”
That quote will fairly much sum up any League of Ireland supporter’s answer to the snarling bar-stooler’s ignorant outbursts towards the league we all love and adore.
While even the most educated of outsiders could find a psychological reason as to why the Airtricity League has so many hard-line followers, none can ever fully understand. Perhaps that’s why it’s so important to those involved, because they, a minority, are actually involved. From a personal perspective, I’d always wonder how certain people can think that sitting behind a bar watching the global giants of football on a television screen can beat the first-hand experience of that raw emotion in grounds up and down the country. It bemused me for so long, until I finally gave up caring. I’d established that it’s everyone to their own, and what is mine, is mine, and that was why I loved it.
A personal connection to the players, whether it be due to their locality, or due to their long term commitment to “your” club, is something no person could feel for a player cross-channel whilst camped in the glum surroundings of a public house watching his every move on the latest digital miracle feature produced by a company only interested in the revenue they can make off it.
Whilst I would never condemn people for supporting English teams, I would question the credibility of an Irish man’s claim that they support the club, because they “love” it. And even so, if a love has developed through the miracle that is satellite television, most will never be able to experience the highs and lows that come in the Irish footballing package.
It’s blatantly obvious to everyone that the quality of football isn’t as good as that of our neighbours across the Irish Sea, or whether the publicity is as prolonged or as extensive. It is also obvious however, that in terms of passion, no matter how small a crowd may be, one man’s passion here, can equal that of a dozen sunshine supporters, due to the experiences and emotions related to their Irish clubs. Those experiences, which were witnessed first-hand by the people who were there, will stay with them forever, while sitting in front of a television listening to the constant murmurings of a stranger developing his opinions as your own can feel quite repetitive and will easily lose its flavour after the glamour fades away.
The gliding footsteps appear to defy gravity as you approach the terrace; those chills begin to make their way down your spine as the whistle signals the beginning of yet another adrenaline-induced ninety minutes of Irish football. The social aspect of the game is also a major factor of course -the sense of belonging, the tribalism affect. You fly your colours high for your team, because they represent you on that football pitch, represent the feelings the club has given you throughout the years, and represent your locality in some cases, and even your upbringing if a relative forced it down your throat when you were younger.
While a high definition service is now offered, no picture is truly crystal clear unless you can feel the conditions depicted in those moments. No lens can ever suffice once you feel the wind behind your back, giving your team that slight advantage in front of goal, or the wet conditions making it difficult for your goalkeeper to gather; the trepidation both you and the player feel together. In what is such a strong connection, certain areas will be argued, while often mistaken as foolishness, it only points to strong-willed people standing up and fighting their point due to this inexplicable passion they feel.
So perhaps marketing will never work for attracting more people to games; but maybe it will. The 2010 Ford FAI Cup Final would suggest it can, given the right circumstances. Others like me will argue that perhaps it is all in the heads of those in attendance. On the surface, it’s a football being kicked from one end of a field to the other. But to those involved, and those who manage to take it far more seriously, it’s affectively a drug; a drug which can give such a buzz, because of unrivalled passion, that nobody could live without it. Passion needs to be developed, it cannot be instant. The only way to become passionate is to actually get out, and witness it for yourself – and not by listening to the reports slating this league for its supposed lack of everything.
So if someone asks you tomorrow, why do you support your local team? Don’t answer. Tell them you can’t explain it, because no matter how hard you try, nobody can be convinced by words with matters such as this. Experience with football is vital and it cannot be bought. When asked, point out those floodlights in the distance, and walk away. Why do a set of thirty Limerick fans travel to Ballybofey on a Friday evening in the pouring rain with sub-zero temperatures freezing everything in sight, whilst paying over the odds for a seat on a bus to see them draw a goalless game with little entertainment throughout?
It’s all they know, and all they ever want to know. The same applies to every other set of supporters.
Perhaps the most significant point of all is that the people support this league because of the bar-stoolers. They see the levels of passion, then realise it’s not a passion they can connect with. Being a minority is something to be proud of for those loyal supporters, because come a Friday evening, the television is switched off and the bus is taken to the ground. The tension builds, and the noise is electrifying. This is their league, this is our league, and if you don’t like it, I don’t think those who do, will really mind that much.
Andrew joined Extratime for the 2010 season and covers all the on-goings down in Limerick. Having first experienced the League of Ireland in 2002, Andrew became hooked, even at such an early age. He is currently studying English and New Media at the University of Limerick. You can contact him via Twitter @Cunneen92.