Last night Shamrock Rovers FC became the first team from Ireland, North or South, to qualify for the group stages of a major European football competition by beating Partizan Belgrade after extra time.
Of course, Linfield FC, from Northern Ireland, have made it as far as the Quarter Finals of the European Cup back in 1966-67, however, that doesn’t detract from ‘Rovers’ achievement at all, in what are very different conditions and a different level of competition from the old days.
One of the other factors that teams on the island have to face is competition from bigger, cross channel teams in the TV and Internet age. Growing up in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s if you wanted to watch football on TV, you saw English football with a dash of Scottish thrown in for measure. For as long as I can remember paddies from both sides of the border (and in Northern Ireland, both sides of the religious divide) have been boarding boats to cross on day trips to Glasgow, Liverpool & Manchester to see ‘their’ teams.
Of course my own family got caught up in it too with all the boys in our house with a favourite English & Scottish team. But we were different. Crossing the water to watch one of these mammoths of football was an extreme rarity as every Saturday my Dad, my brother & I would get in the car to go & watch Irish League Football, more often than not Portadown FC (my brother, a life long Glenavon FC supporter eventually stopped going to watch ‘the Ports’ with us).
In my high school class, I was the only one who did this every week. Sure some played football, but many ‘football supporters’ did not. Sadly over the the past 15 years and the dawning of the ‘EasyJet’ and ‘RyanAir’ era has seen more ‘day-trippers’ to places like Newcastle, Birmingham and London, meaning that even fewer people go to watch Irish League Football – and League of Ireland Football in the South.
The game has suffered on both sides of the island as a result. Less money means less quality… both have tried to stem the tide with varying degrees of success and mostly failure.
So ‘Rovers’ success last night is a victory for us all I believe – and on a night when both Glasgow teams got knocked out of the very same competition hopefully an eye opener to those ‘day-trippers’ that we have talent on our island which could seriously succeed if it’s supported and administrated properly. And that sometimes the grass isn’t always greener on the other side – and when is it ever greener than the Emerald Isle?!
Come on, support your own.