It’s Friday evening. I’ve finished school for the weekend, finished all my homework and now all but one thing remains. It’s the middle of March, the skies are grey and the bright sunshine of springtime seems a different world away altogether and the only air around is dank and depressing. Yet, in my head my I’m nervous, excited, ecstatic, buzzing and relieved as I make my way up to my Nan’s house.
Every Friday evening begins here. Always has and always will be for me. I’d arrive up, weak and weary of my week of Leaving Certing and my Nan always greets me the same. Whether I’m four years old or eighteen she’ll hug me and say, “Are you excited?” We’d laugh. Have tea. Then dinner would come, the same dinner since I was four years old coming up from junior infants; chicken burgers and chips over Neighbors followed by the Simpsons. Afterwards my Granddad would wrap up warm, hug my Nan for what she was worth and together we’d make our way down to Turner’s Cross for a new season awaits. Could this be our year? Could Cork City win the League of Ireland this year?
We both go our separate ways, my Granddad to his friends and me to mine, awaiting the return of “Ireland’s Airtricity League” a league supposed to be for “Real Football, Real Fans” – but really; is it?
The “Real Fans” is a rather funny question. In Cork people support more clubs than I reckon there are people in Munster from Manchester United, Liverpool (who I do support myself on the side), Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Aston Villa, Newcastle, Celtic, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid… the list goes on… which raises the question, does our league have “Real Fans?”
If you have to ask me, honestly; I’m all for someone supporting Liverpool (which I do myself) or Manchester United, as long as someone says, “but I also support my local” that’s the sign of a true football fan. Not someone who watches Liverpool when they’ve won two or three games in a row or a United fan who thought, “well I stopped watching halfway through last season” to which they always reply, “I supported Ferguson not Moyes”. Usually on the side you also have the fans who spend about £500 pound every six months to go to the Premiership game and then say, “League of Ireland is too pricey”. But when you consider the whole idea that League of Ireland is “Real Fans?” it’s only a half truth. I’m not going to lie there when you have 5,322 crowded into Turners Cross versus St. Patrick’s Athletic versus 579 loosely packed in versus Waterford United in the League Cup only weeks later.
When you look at the statement too of “Real Football?” it’s like comparing theater to television. In television it is fast moving, easy on the eye, attention grabbing and addictive. While theater is slow moving, it will build you up, you get to know the characters before something happens, you can see the struggle, the triumphs the tribulations first hand, how you want to see them, whenever wincing at a penalty at the 90th minute or Romeo deciding he has had enough. Football is meant to be enjoyed, both as a sport and as a social aspect. Unlike certain sports football brings people together. The quality of football in League of Ireland mightn’t be worthy of La Liga style, but the most important thing is that it is ours, like Colin Healy’s goal versus St Patrick’s Athletics or Chris Forrester’s goal for St Patrick’s Athletic versus Drogheda United. We know the players, we see them in Tesco, in the pub, on a night out, they’re real people to us. Not characters in a television show we see once a week and our only personal connection really is on Twitter or on Sky Sports.
In summing up, saying “Real Football, Real Fans” is only a half truth, you would be hard pressed and at the ends of the world to meet a truly 100% League of Ireland fan but the football is our football.