Are You Not Entertained?

Europe: Game 5

Vitesse Arnhem 2-2 Dundalk

Will Patching’s goal in injury time against Tallinn was a great goal. Patrick McEleney’s first goal against Vitesse was a great goal. But, good lord, his 2nd was a work of art. You know it’s special when the video of the goal pops up in your WhatsApp groups filled with people who don’t follow the League of Ireland.

It was an absolutely masterful piece of skill and brilliance from a player we all know is capable of just that level of skill and brilliance.

When I say we all know, the we I’m referring to is League of Ireland fans obviously. How many Irish football fans beyond that number know just how good he is? How many know just how much talent is littered throughout ‘our’ league?

There has been so much talk from people on our side of the fence in the last couple of weeks about TV coverage and lack of national broadcasting while three of our teams are on an unprecedented run in Europe.

Efforts have been made by clubs to bring these occasions to the wider public but for a variety of reasons, absurd and otherwise, it hasn’t happened.

Everyone has an opinion on this and maybe we’re all right and maybe we’re all wrong but what we can all agree on is that there have been opportunities, in the past few weeks to showcase all that’s good in our game.

Unfortunately, as has become commonplace with this type of thing, it’s another missed opportunity.

The Summer is coming to an end, the Premier League is back next week and the opportunity to turn a couple of heads, free of other footballing distraction, is gone.

The conversation is just around the corner where the ‘barstool fans’ are called out for not being proper football fans because they don’t go to the games on their doorsteps.

It’s a tired, contrived, never ending argument that helps absolutely no one.

I’m of the mind that this is an extremely long journey that we have to go on to fix this but that doesn’t mean in the short-term there aren’t blindingly obvious things that can be done to increase the profile of the League and its players and coaches.

RTE can’t find time in their schedule to show the game on TV? Fine, stream the game live on Twitter, Facebook or whatever platform works best. Tweet out the goals as they happen with a link to being able to watch the game instantly on whatever device people are looking at the tweet on. I’m sure there are license issues and broadcasting issues that we don’t know about but as a core idea, for massive European games, how does that not bring in viewers?

We want more coverage, we want to be treated as equals in the Irish sporting landscape, but the goal for all of us shouldn’t be to get more people to watch on TV, the goal is to get more people to go to the games.

Like Vinny Perth said after the match in Arnhem, it all starts with infrastructure. If stadiums improve, if facilities improve, if match day experiences improve then our product will improve. This has to be league wide, it can’t just be a handful of teams.

The League can’t compete with the polished billion pound product that is the Premier League and having a pop at people who follow teams in England or wherever is a waste of time because they look at the average LoI match and see the attendance, see the stadiums, see the production quality and they’re instantly turned off.

The League of Ireland, its teams and endless talented players always seem to have to prove themselves to the wider public of Ireland which means that with any misstep, any defeat on a national stage, people will say ‘I told you so’.

Age old opinions and biases need to be addressed and the only way to start that process, in my eyes, is to improve stadiums and facilities. The quality on the pitch is there but it needs to be presented the right way.

There needs to be investment in the league as a whole, serious investment from the government or otherwise to raise the bar.

We all know football fans who belittle the league or show next to no interest in it and we have to ask ourselves what would make them take this seriously and get them interested.

We’ve had teams in the Europa League, we’ve had excellent matches on TV, we’ve had massive Cup Finals, we’ve even had a Puskas nominated goal and it still doesn’t work.

Mike Tracy talked about trying to promote the feeling and the energy of being in the shed and losing your mind in celebration and that is what we should be trying to encourage. The match day experience is what is unique to this league and for all of us that take part in it but it still has to be improved.

This league should be all about the experience of being there. The experience we all love.

There is no doubting the quality on the pitch, there is no doubting the drama that comes along with every season, we just need to find the best way to showcase that to everyone.

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