Soccer: Ireland v Scotland
All appears quite calm with Cork City Football Club. A fairly safe position in the league would probably be safer if it weren’t for Monaghan United’s sudden withdrawal in the very recent past. The continuing crisis at Dundalk doesn’t help, either. Fortunately, the club has taken measures to ensure the budget doesn’t go too far off projection despite the loss of a home gate and the two week Summer break.
Over the next several weeks, City will have three cross-channel visitors at the Cross, most notably Manchester United. Though this won’t be United’s first team squad, there are unconfirmed rumours that a small number of well-known stars may travel. At any rate, the name and fame of the club is sure to attract a good crowd. City’s other English visitors, Watford FC and Blackburn Rovers, aren’t likely to be quite so attractive to the public, but with tickets priced at a very reasonable €10 for each of the two matches, the club hopes for a decent attendance in both fixtures. With the Watford and Man United matches on consecutive days, the club has decided to produce one match programme to cover both fixtures.
On the playing side, City have also been busy, signing 18-year-old midfielder Brian Lenihan from College Corinthians, a highly-rated former schoolboy international. Former St Johnstone and Blackpool player Keigan Parker is also expected to sign.
So that’s City; business as usual. Such a shame that not all clubs in the League of Ireland can operate quite so smoothly. In recent weeks, it’s become pretty obvious that the league is in crisis and needs serious reform. Like our friends in Scotland? Not really.
It’s true that Irish soccer has many problems; the precarious financial state of many clubs, the poor condition of many grounds, the apparent lack of uniformity in applying the regulations, poor but improving media coverage, the desire of any talented player to get to England as quickly as possible in order to make a full-time career in the game. We’re familiar with all the issues.
At least in Scotland it’s not that bad, is it? Since they’ve been in the news recently, let’s compare and contrast.
The standard of football? On telly, the Scottish game looks high quality. Irish clubs don’t look anywhere near as appealing. But is that misleading? Big TV companies with massive budgets focus almost exclusively on the top clubs. It’s very rare that a live match doesn’t involve either Celtic or Rangers. Beyond that, there’s not a lot, and even the Big Two find it difficult to achieve much in Europe these days.
Competitiveness? We win hands down! Glasgow’s Ugly Sisters have dominated the Scottish scene for so long that it’s almost unheard of to have any SPL team outside of Glasgow entertain a realistic chance of finishing higher than third in the league. Thanks to recent events, however, that’s likely to change; from a two-horse race to a one-horse jog. In Ireland, supporters of anything from four to six sides can reasonably hope to be celebrating a League title at the end of the season.
Financial stability? A pretty alien concept to both leagues. Fortunately, there’s a realisation in this country that the financial affairs of clubs need to be more efficiently managed. The fate of Rangers and the loudly declared threat of financial Armageddon (if the clubs didn’t do what they were told) tells its own story about Scotland.
Impartial Enforcement of Regulations? Something that supporters in Ireland often complain about is the lax enforcement of regulations. This is a problem particularly with regard to the grounds used by a number of clubs, which clearly don’t reach the required standard. Questions could also be asked as to how effectively the budgetary discipline of clubs is monitored. Can all the recent financial crises really have sprung up unexpectedly? The good news is that rules are likely to be enforced when clubs misbehave. Derry City’s dual contract stunt and the financial recklessness of Shelbourne and Cork City had serious repercussions for all those clubs. Contrast that with the appeals from the football authorities in Scotland for the clubs to go easy on Rangers! What happened to rules?
From the comparisons I’ve made, it’s clear that the League of Ireland, troubled though it may be, can hold its own when compared with Scotland. Strange then how thousands of Irish people regularly make the trip across to Scotland each season, ignoring a perfectly worthwhile league on their own doorstep. After all, if the criteria as set out above were to be the deciding factors in a match between the two leagues, Ireland would win. It wouldn’t be a pretty match, but we’d win!