Light Shines Brightly On The SSE Airtricity League 2015
Airtricity League 2015
If you were watching Borussia Dortmund succumb to an earth-shattering home defeat to little Augsburg one Friday evening only a few weeks ago, you’d have witnessed a spectacularly odd incident at the end of the game.
Two or three of the senior Dortmund players went to the Yellow Wall – the vast intimidating stand at the Westfalenstadion that houses the hardcore support – to try to calm them, to assure them they were doing their best and things would be okay; it would have made the Jobstown stand-off look like the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
It may seem strange to mention that in conjunction with the start of the 2015 SSE Airtricity League but one quickly came to the conclusion that the scenes that night – an example of the bond between the club and its fans – can really only be replicated in smaller leagues, where the supporters and the players’ relationships are eminently closer than what modern football usually allows elsewhere; where multi-millionaires are generally seen as untouchable and unaccountable, surrounded by security, secluded from reality.
Compare and contrast that with how players from our league interact with the supporters’ bases and attend their events regularly or the joyous title party on the synthetic surface of Oriel Park last October where the fans, the manager and his players coalesced in an outpouring of emotion – you rarely get that anywhere else across the football spectrum anymore.
The phrase ‘football hipster’ is bandied about a lot these days with its meaning now slightly obscured but football here in Ireland is as hipster as it gets.
A lot of supporters these days want to feel exclusivity with the sides they follow, that this is their thing and their thing only, and the League of Ireland offers that in spades. “Fan-powered football”, the new slogan being used by SSE Airticity, is nail on the head stuff; driving home that emotional connection between a club and its fans.
The 2014 league campaign was a bit of a breakthrough for the domestic scene here and that frenzy must be fed. It’s a placebo effect: the greater the numbers attending, the greater the buzz will get, the more fans will want to go – people want to belong to something, it’s in our very nature.
The rise of regional beasts like Dundalk and Cork City after years in the doldrums has injected new life into what had become a stagnated situation of Dublin-based clubs – along with Sligo – dominating the landscape. The buzz that carried last season’s triumph has lingered long in the North-East and that seems to have filtered through to the rest of the country as kick-off edges ever closer.
There are twelve clubs in the Premier Division and one would argue five of them have a realistic shot at title glory – nearly half the league. Managers have been busy in the close season adding to their squads with some savvy business being done in terms of attracting new talent and managing to hold on to the majority already there.
The arrival of Liam Miller at Cork City has further added to the growing roster of former Premier League and Irish international stars coming home. The former Celtic and Manchester United midfielder joins Colin Healy at Turner’s Cross with Stephen McPhail and Keith Fahey at Shamrock Rovers.
Whilst the cynic may see these moves as pre-retirement stints, the optimist sees the boost in quality and image that these names bring however short term it is. Despite these cause célèbre-style homecomings, the league remains a breeding ground for young talent with the average age of each squad one of the lowest in European football.
In promotion of the domestic game here, that theme should run closely in conjunction with the idea of ‘fan-powered football’ because, in the eyes of the idealist, that is what the game is all about: the desire to see young players given the opportunity to grow and thrive in front of our eyes, to cultivate that affinity between a club and its supporter, to understand that that relationship is unlike most others anywhere else.
The forthcoming 2015 campaign has a lot to live up compared to its predecessor but after a long period of darkness, the light shines brightly on the SSE Airtricity League.