Reporting at a Premier Division game a couple of weeks ago, an all too common occurrence raised its head. To cut a long story short, the referee sent off a player after clearly being instructed do so by his linesman who had obviously seen something the referee had not.
Given the background of the dismissal, we in the press area scrabbled to find out who this linesman was who had effectively doomed the player to an early bath. After some debate, we discovered the name of the linesman printed in the official teamsheet was incorrect. The matter was cleared up quickly and any subsequent reports I read from the game had named correctly the man whose decision had a huge bearing on the outcome of the game.
It seems a very small matter, trivial even. Something barely worth mentioning. After all, word got around quickly on that occasion and everyone was able to make the necessary corrections.
But what if it hadn’t been changed? Would it really matter? Would anyone care?
Well, probably the individual in question. Or, if the call made by the linesman had been an incorrect one and there just so happened to be another official in the league with the same name. I would imagine he would care – particularly when the abuse was raining down on him from the stands the next time he had the misfortune to be officiating at the ground.
And all for a crime he didn’t commit.
This is a trivial matter and I’m intentionally blowing it out of proportion. The point is that this is the culture that reporters of the League of Ireland must work within. A culture where mistakes on team sheets are not just common place – but are to be expected.
And not just mistakes in names of officials. It is not surprising to see players, managers, even team names spelled wrong in some cases!
Again it’s a trivial matter, and would be fine if it stopped there. But if clubs can’t produce something as simple as an accurate team sheet once a fortnight, well, there’s nowhere really to go from here but downhill.
I’m not for one second suggesting all the problems associated with reporting on the Airtricity League should be levelled at the clubs. They do fantastic work to help make reporters jobs as easy as possible, and from talking to people who have been covering Irish soccer long before I ever graced a LOI stadium, clubs have come on leaps and bounds in recent years.
Moreover, it’s understandable that club chairmen should choose to spend what limited funds they have to keep their club running, as opposed to investing in press facilities.
But when you’re spelling your own players’ names wrong, or there’s a wall obstructing your view of proceedings from the press box, or a club doesn’t issue press releases (I know of two First Division clubs guilty of this), you know there is a still a long way to go.
In my view, a dramatic change in how clubs and reporters interact is required. I know I will personally be criticised for suggesting that these problems are having a negative effect on how the League of Ireland is reported on. This comes back to the unhealthy culture that exists here. I don’t just point these things out for the sake of it.
We all have the league’s interests at heart and we all want what’s best for the league. This can result in a lack of reporting on controversial stories. Or more accurately, there is a lack of hunger to hear about the controversial stuff that goes on.
The idea that reporting on the controversial will only damage the league is, in itself, devastating for the game here. This lack of exposure means matters off the field can go unnoticed.
I’ve lost count of how many teams have folded in the last decade or so. In all these cases, the clubs didn’t run out of money overnight. They were long drawn out processes. Maybe if someone had asked the hard questions at the right time, things might have turned out different.
But again, this is a two-way relationship. In general I think there is a distrust of the media in this country. Clubs can be over protective and reluctant to help journalists for fear of what they might find out. In League of Ireland circles, this is a fear generally motivated by money.
I’m repeating myself at this stage, but closer scrutiny of clubs might have prevented some of them from going out of business.
This distrust means often journalists feel they must go straight to the source. This isn’t really ideal either. Would Daniel Taylor or Sid Lowe, or Tony Evans ever ring up Alex Ferguson on a Sunday morning to discuss his tactics employed the day before? Somehow, I doubt it.
It shows the unprofessionalism for which the league is so often criticised.
But like I say, this is a two-way thing and sometimes a call on a Sunday morning (or in our case a Saturday morning), is exactly what is required when a manager refuses to speak to media after the game, for example.
Another case is where clubs don’t press release new signings. Often club supporters know before journalists when a player has signed for a club and when that happens you know something isn’t right.
Of course none of this excuses bad journalism but hopefully it makes it easier for the fans of the game to understand when an incident is reported incorrectly, or god forbid, a linesman’s name is misspelt!
Sam joined Extratime for the 2011 season and is now the site's features editor. He is based in Dublin and covers all the clubs in the capital. He is also prone to the odd Drogheda game. If you would like to contact Sam, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.