Dundalk’s win over BATE Borisov in the Champions League is the greatest achievement ever by an Irish football club. They dominated a (fairly) well known team (CL group stage regular) and, frankly, coasted to a 3-0 win in front of live TV cameras. It has rightly caught the national attention. Almost all have proclaimed it as “great for the League of Ireland”.
Is it though?
The League of Ireland is ignored by 70% of Irish football fans. It is openly mocked by another 25% here and we’re left with a small hardcore who live and breathe the #GreatestLeagueInTheWorld. Dundalk’s win absolutely paints that league in a far better light today. Maybe there are people today thinking “you know what, maybe the LOI isn’t shite!” (1)
Dundalk’s exploits have already brought in media, football and otherwise, that wouldn’t normally touch the League of Ireland. All have been very complimentary about Dundalk’s performance and, by association that should raise the profile of the whole league.
Stunning result for Irish football. Some feat by Stephen Kenny.
— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) August 2, 2016
Other members of the media have used this result, and that of Cork City, as hope that the league will use the results as a catalyst for greater things.
If there was ever a time to sort out our league it's now. Off d back of our LOI boys in Euros squad & now our clubs great displays in Europe
— Alan Cawley (@alancaw) July 28, 2016
absolutely but every chance authorities will use decent performances as justification when most of league in disarray
— Daniel McDonnell (@McDonnellDan) July 28, 2016
The case against the league starts with Dan McDonnell's excellent point from last week. Apart from Dundalk and Cork, the league isn't in too healthy a state. Historic clubs like Athlone, Waterford and Shelbourne (themselves European heroes in 2004) are all on the brink of extinction. They don't need well meaning "fair play to the league" best wishes, they need investment. The European results give a false impression of the true health of the league, and give a perfect excuse to those who don't want to see it develop. "Sure look at Dundalk, if they can do it without our help, why can't the rest of you!"
(1) As per the above “you know what, maybe the LOI isn’t shite!” hope. Well, that won't last either. The football on show isn't great. If people head to Derry v Pats or Shamrock Rovers v Longford (and any game not including Dundalk) thinking they'll get to see a team as strong as Dundalk, they will not be returning any time soon. They might get lucky and see a cracker, and there are certainly good players on show, but the standard in the 18 teams below Dundalk and Cork isn't great this year.
A bit of it amid cheers, but what the LOI definitely needs now is people admonishing "outsiders" for suddenly taking interest in huge game.
— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) August 3, 2016
How football support all around the world works is that people get an attachment to the club, and they keep going. Nearly everybody starts supporting a team because they're successful. Maybe it's a cup final, maybe it's a high profile friendly, maybe because you saw them win on telly and the atmosphere looked good. They don't start going to see a team because one of their rivals does well. Bandwagon may have negative connotations but Dundalk were playing in front of 200 people not so long ago. Despite what some claim, newcomers have been made very welcome and they're equally entitled to enjoy the celebrations.
If the League of Ireland is to grow support, it must be from the bottom up. It must be through the work put in by the clubs themselves, backed by the League and the FAI. What's more likely to be heard from all those non-LOI fans saying "Jaysus, fair play to them."
- a) "I think I'll head down to watch my local professional team"; or
- b) "Ooh look, the Premier League starts in 2 weeks"
We have evidence from previous breakthroughs from Shelbourne and Shamrock Rovers that the effect on other clubs has been negligible. In fact most clubs have smaller crowds now than in 2011.
Dundalk's win will earn them new fans. It won't earn new fans for other clubs. Even if some were moved to go to a new game, the league clubs aren't in a position to make the most of this sentiment. Derry play on Friday and the last post on their website is from July 24th. As Dan McDonnell called it, most clubs are in "disarray".
Dundalk's run so far has guaranteed them €6.35 million Euro in prize money. Sure there are extra expenses but with bumper gates and all other extra income, they are easily €5 million up from this European campaign. That's the equivalent of winning the League of Ireland 50 times. How big an advantage is that?
Dundalk must now sort our their messy Oriel Park situation and develop one of the worst stadiums in the Premier Division but they have the one thing every LOI club craves; breathing room. They can now plan for the future (without constantly fighting fires like most clubs) and at the same time look to dominate domestically. Yes, some of these things were said about Shamrock Rovers in 2011 but the money is vastly different. Rovers earned less than €2 million. Dundalk will earn at least treble that (and more if they can earn any more wins/draws). Dundalk already have the backing of their local media and have great local sponsors too. You can expect political and social backing now to row in behind them now. Who in Dundalk/Louth is going to say no to their demands now?
The hope for fans of clubs that aren't Dundalk basically boil down to 3 areas;
- The success of Dundalk will attract investment/spotlight/fans for all. The "rising tide" phenomenon.
- Seeing Stephen Kenny and his coaching team turn players with average backgrounds into European stars spurs on the other management teams and makes them work harder to catch Dundalk
- Dundalk piss it away in similar fashion to Rovers.
One might happen, but if clubs are expecting to benefit from Dundalk's results without doing any work themselves, they're deluding themselves. Two is possible, but with Dundalk's budget dwarfing the rest, it is going to be a struggle to catch them. Three is most likely based on all previous evidence, but this Dundalk board have made every right step since coming to power in 2013. Seeing as they've already achieved astounding things on the pitch, I wouldn't be betting on them to fail off the pitch.
If any Irish club is to compete with Dundalk now, they'll need investment, hard work and a little bit of luck. Nearly all clubs work hard, so let's see if any investment comes in so they have a chance to be lucky. Please don't blame fans of other clubs for being bitter, it's part of the DNA of all football fans. We care about our clubs, and anything that negatively impacts that, isn't welcome. We can only hope that Dundalk don't run away with everything now.