A little bit of selfish news from the media watch scribe this week. I recently received funding to ake a documentary on Italia ’90. I’m delighted with the news if I’ honest. I’ll be trekking across the country over the next few months and interviewing fans, asking them how they enjoyed the tournament which happened when I was a mere four-and-a-bit years old.
As part of said documentary, I’ve naturally been doing a lot of research. I can tell you all about Sheedy and O’Leary and Big Jack and co. but this research has involved going through newspapers of the time, capturing a sense of how Ireland as a nation celebrated the greatest sporting achievement in the history of our nation. The optimism is refreshing. To see people living, breathing and enjoying football is a marked difference to what we see in 2009, and what we see with regards to the League of Ireland.
Last Sunday, RTE’s Radio One’s This Week programme ran a feature on the sustainability of football in Ireland. It was a relatively glum piece that had input from the likes of Sligo chairman Dermot Kelly and Fran Gavin and the tone was simple – the League needs to downsize, return to local roots and avoid more controversies. Now, you may think that this is the sort of piece that’s not too relevant, being broadcast when the sane among us are watching, say, Man U v Birmingham or the GAA. Unfortunately, it’s not. This Week has over 150,000 listeners on an average Sunday, which far exceeds the total weekly League of Ireland attendance, or even the number of people who watch MNS on RTE Two. It’s certainly more people than will see Pats’ European run, that’s for sure.
Us hardcore, we know what the sport is like here. We love it. We get the buzz of a Friday night and we know what it’s like to follow a team. We have the passion. Those among us who’ve heard that report know that despite the problems, the League of Ireland is in many ways vibrant and exciting. Claire Byrne can voice an ad on Newstalk all she likes, but her reach is limited. The clubs can do a lot in their communities, but are they doing enough to change the public’s opinion, an opinion formed by shows like This Week.
Maybe all we need is one person to come along and capture the public’s opinion again, make us all love football once more. Maybe we just need Big Jack.