• A cold, dark and backwards step

    I haven't found time to articulate my feelings on the lunancy of a return of winter football but as I look out on what used to be a garden, covered in snow for the guts of ten days now it seems an apt time to get something down on it.

    As with most serious items in the League of Ireland, the news of a possible return came first from whispers, then rumours and finally a few carefully leaked press articles where if you can accurately read between the lines you can nearly work out which club official the journalist was talking to. The Daily Mail was the first paper to explicitly state that a return to winter football was on the table as an options(along with the normal deck chair rearranging of changing the number of sides in the top flight).

    Normally if you are making a major change you try and find the pros and cons, weigh them up and try and come down on the consensus that reflect the best decision in the bigger picture. In my view this decision has to be considered in the light of the following criteria

    • Playing Quality
    • Finances
    • European Competition
    • Spectators
    • Facilities
    • Crowds


    Playing Quality: There has been no doubt that there has been an improvement in playing quality since the introduction of summer football. There are the odd exceptions, such as the "beach" at Terryland but there has been a marked improvement in all the playing surfaces. This has allowed players to showcase the best of their talents on the best surfaces. No, you think players play better in sub zero conditions?

    European Competition: Again, the facts speak for themselves on this one. Since the switch we've probably enjoyed more consistent success that for the decades before. Of course there have been blips but can you argue that the likes of Derry, Cork, Shels etc would have been able to defeat superior opposition if, like them, we had been in pre-season? Indeed there was such heady optimism at one stage that there was an argument for switching back to winter football in order to facilitate competitive action for those sides that might qualify for the group stages of compeition. One word answers the doubters here: Co-efficient. Albeit that might be of no comfort to the likes of Bray, Athlone etc but remember bigger picture

    Finances: Ah, the old "crowds were better under winter football" chesnut. Crowds were better in the 1960s as well, so we get the FAI to invest in a time machine and we can go back to then. The fact is that the game, and the world has changed since we last played winter football. Back then inter-provincial rugby was still a minority sport and people still regarded half strength English sides as a reason to pack a ground for a friendly.

    If clubs want better crowds, then they have to work harder to get them. Winter football, as I'll explain in depth, will not bring people back. We've always heard this mythical argument about crowds being affected by the Championship in the summer. The truth is that the majority of clubs in the League are from urban areas, areas that are traditionally the least affected by the "call of the parish".

    The country is about to enter an economic depression that we won't see the light out of for the guts of a decade, maybe more. If we couldn't keep control on our finance when people had money to burn, how is switching back to a winter season going to change this?

    Businesses will ask, "what can you do for me?". The issue is that the vast majority of clubs take the sponsorship money and have no contact with that sponsor until the next time they come looking for more money. Do clubs make their sponsors an integral part of their model? Do they jack. Irish people will support things they can see the value in and they will support things that are successful.

    Spectators & Facilities: These two are intrinsically linked and therefore are considered as such. We are now nearly a decade into the summer football "experiment" and therefore we have young fans who have no experience of playing a match in Buckley Park in -3 conditions, with the freezing fog so bad that you can't see the far side of the pitch. Of driving half way down the country only to find that your game has been called off an hour before kick off. All joking aside about the Irish weather, the majority of the season is playing in temperate conditions where you can get away with a raincoat. Standing in Drom on a balmy evening in July is a slightly difference proposition to a game there in late January.

    On a personal level, getting in a car to drive home from the likes of Limerick or Waterford in mid summer is a lot less stressful than having to navigate ice/frost/fog and all that comes with it these at this time of year.

    All of which would still be acceptable, if we had first class facilities. With a few notable exceptions we don't. We have a majority of grounds where you can still end up cold, wet and miserable and with substandard catering facilites.

    None of this matter to us, we're fanatics. I'll stand on the slope in Jackman and I don't care if I fall down 15 times in the muck. However we don't need to attract people like me to the game, we need to attract new fans. How are we going to do this if we playing games at the worst time of the year? How often does a child want to go back, and you want to take them back, if there is no cover and it is cold and wet every time you go.

    Leisure habits have changed since 2002. People have an entire online world, they have consoles where they can play people anyone in the world. They have massive TVs where it appears as if the match is being played in the room that you're sitting in. Never mind going to the game, people don't even need to bother going to the pub to watch it now. Whereas it used to be a massive "treat" to be taken to England to see a game with cheap flights it can now be achieved a few times a years without a massive expense.

    As a parent you have a choice, you can take your child to the cinema/swimming pool/leisure park/bowling alley. However unattractive the League of Ireland is at the best of times on that list, it is twice as unattractive if it is teaming with rain outside and you know you're going to end up soaked an hunger as at the majority of grounds.

    Crowds: Having mentioned the facilities and spectators we have to consider why the clubs want to go back to winter football? One has to believe that some fantastists believe that they can replicate the crowds they once got in the winter time round. I'd love to see any clever evidence of this happening apart from the "Sure we used to get 4,000 against Rovers in the 90s". It smacks of that line in the Platnium One report about crowds increasing by 100% in the first year, with absolutely no explanation as to how this would be done.

    People will not come back if there is winter football. People will come if you are winning games.

    So up against the most hyped League in the world we're going to put our League in direct competition? A marketing assistant at Sky probably earns more than the players in this League but these fools somehow think that we can beat these people at their own game?

    At the start of the piece I mentioned the normal decision making process which weighs up the pros and cons of an action and then settles on a course of action, based on what is the best decision in the overall context. For those advocating a return to winter football where are the positives to a return? The majority of those currently following the game are against it, there is no clamour amongst neutrals "I'd love to go, if only they played in January", there appears to be no economic rationale. One fears that it is the typical League of Ireland response of it something doesn't immediately fix all our problems then we must return to the way it was in the old days.

    In the old days we were a backwards country which was being left behind by the rest of Europe and a general luaghing stock. Now......oh wait.

    The League of Ireland will never be a mainstream popular event here. At best we can hope for a well run League where the clubs get enough crowds to stay afloat and continue to provide high and lows to those lucky enough to support the sides that play in it.

    However a return to winter football appears to a classic case of the club deciding they would rather have one hand tied behind their back and they face the challenges ahead.

    At times the sheer pig headed attitudes of the clubs would make you feel like packing it in.
    This article was originally published in blog: A cold, dark and backwards step started by MariborKev
    Comments 12 Comments
    1. bennocelt's Avatar
      bennocelt -
      Like it and agree 100%, thumbs up
    1. BonnieShels's Avatar
      BonnieShels -
      Excellent post. Completely spot on.
    1. Cabs88's Avatar
      Cabs88 -
      "The League of Ireland will never be a mainstream popular event here. At best we can hope for a well run League where the clubs get enough crowds to stay afloat and continue to provide high and lows to those lucky enough to support the sides that play in it."



      excellent point, and an excellent post
    1. Dodge's Avatar
      Dodge -
      I wouldn’t dear to write as eloquently as yourself Kev but here’s a quick rebuttal on you main points

      “Playing Quality” – I presume you mean condidtions? No argument there.

      “European Competition: Again, the facts speak for themselves on this one” – I’m afraid they don’t. The turn to summer soccer also saw an increase in on field professionalism. I firmly believe that this has been a greater influence on the very positive European results. Also, sahem on you for not mentioning the only club tah got through 2 rounds of a proer European competition twice (in a row too)


      “Finances: Ah, the old "crowds were better under winter football" chesnut. Crowds were better in the 1960s as well, so we get the FAI to invest in a time machine and we can go back to then. The fact is that the game, and the world has changed since we last played winter football. Back then inter-provincial rugby was still a minority sport…” – You can’t seriously think interpro Rugby has effected LOI crowds in any meaningful way? Its far from perfect but I know I’ve missed more games in summer due to family commitments. All my match going friends are the same. Dismiss it as anecdotal, but if the hrd core have trouble getting to games, the floating fan must have plenty of other options.

      The country is about to enter an economic depression that we won't see the light out of for the guts of a decade, maybe more. If we couldn't keep control on our finance when people had money to burn, how is switching back to a winter season going to change this?
      Its not. A return to winter football isn’t supposed to be a panacea. Don’t forget, summer soccer was painted that way and it clearly hasn’t been.

      The issue is that the vast majority of clubs take the sponsorship money and have no contact with that sponsor until the next time they come looking for more money.
      Great point. Irrelevant to the season though

      Spectators & Facilities: “On a personal level, getting in a car to drive home from the likes of Limerick or Waterford in mid summer is a lot less stressful than having to navigate ice/frost/fog and all that comes with it these at this time of year.”
      But that’s your personal opinion. I prefer watching football under floodlights instead of sunny Friday evenings.

      Of course you’re 100% right about facilities, but if anything summer football has been an excuse for clubs not to develop. I heard one LOI director say they “didn’t need a roof now”


      “The League of Ireland will never be a mainstream popular event here. At best we can hope for a well run League where the clubs get enough crowds to stay afloat and continue to provide high and lows to those lucky enough to support the sides that play in it.”
      100% correct. Again though, the season is irrelevant here

      The biggest argument against the proposed change is that its, again, re-arranging the deck chairs. And of course, that’s 100% valid. The problems of the league are far deeper than weather. But that doesn’t detract from the season being an issue to some people. It looks like it boils down to personal choice among club reps, which of course is obscene, but it does show that there are people who prefer the winter season.

      I don’t think its fair to dismiss that preference as lunacy. The measures being reportedly taken by clubs and reps may be though
    1. Dodge's Avatar
      Dodge -
      BTW apologies for the randomness of using quote function and just putting in " "
    1. Mario's Avatar
      Mario -
      bravo!
    1. Lionel Ritchie's Avatar
      Lionel Ritchie -
      Returning to winter football would be completely nuts -and I say that as a supporter of a club that has seen little tangible benefit from a summer league.

      Football is about entertainment. It is a product that needs to be considered and presented as such. The hardcore will go the matches whenever they're played but the hardcore is too small in pretty much any club. If floaters and new support are to be attracted then there's a better chance of wooing them in the summer.

      Just on one point Dodge makes about preferring to watch games under lights -so do I. Why is it you can go watch a boxing match at ten o'clock at night but football has to kick off at 7.45? Could we not have a number of ties in a league programme kick off late? ...and I mean really late. Is the security and stewarding issue THAT serious in a league the size of ours?
    1. pineapple stu's Avatar
      pineapple stu -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lionel Ritchie View Post
      Just on one point Dodge makes about preferring to watch games under lights -so do I. Why is it you can go watch a boxing match at ten o'clock at night but football has to kick off at 7.45? Could we not have a number of ties in a league programme kick off late? ...and I mean really late.
      Dunno about others, but I like matches under lights too, but I also like to go for a pint after. Games kicking off at ten severly affects that.
    1. doherty209's Avatar
      doherty209 -
      Quote Originally Posted by pineapple stu View Post
      Dunno about others, but I like matches under lights too, but I also like to go for a pint after. Games kicking off at ten severly affects that.
      I agree, a normal friday night is going to the match followed by pinting all night. Moving matches to a later time doesn't allow for this to the same extent.
    1. born2bwild's Avatar
      born2bwild -
      In winter people stay inside their houses because the weather is bad. What is so hard to understand about that? Why would the FAI press the self-destruct button of dropping summer football? It makes no sense. It just makes no sense. What? The atmosphere is better under floodlights? How do you pay the ESB bill if you have no fans? Fans, even hardcore fans will abandon this sinking ship of fools if this decision is made. As for getting new fans (families, OAPs, people with warm houses and X-boxes, people who coudn't be bothered drving in the rain for two hours...) forget it.
    1. hoops1's Avatar
      hoops1 -
      It would make you despair that so many clubs voted to go back to winter football.
      Our league and clubs are run by totally clueless people.
      One thing I cant get over in this day and age we still haven't got covered shelter for away support in all the grounds. Its madness.
    1. Jack_2001's Avatar
      Jack_2001 -
      I miss Christmas time at the cross....
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