Danske Bank Premiership

I cannot really, or more importantly, accurately remember the build-up to the Carrick Rangers’ Irish Cup final with Linfield in 1976. The result is what everyone remembers and it was a result that spilt over the borders of football. Carrick were not in the senior tier of football at the time and neither next month will be the pride of Fermanagh, Ballinamallard United.

There is some angst surrounding this year’s final. This had started when Ballinamallard were drawn against Warrenpoint Town in the semi-finals. Angst? This would be the angst that surrounds the fact that a thinly supported club would be appearing in the final. A televised final God forbid. At this point, you can start separating proper football/sports people into men and boys if you like. Or is that harsh?

Most people including myself would have preferred a Crusaders/Coleraine final but it is a Crusaders v Ballinamallard final and that is that. I have no difficulty with that on any level. It is not even an ‘it is what it is’ sentiment. Crusaders v Coleraine would have pitted two of the leading clubs in the country against each other with a major trophy and a pathway into Europe vital for each. It would have been almost like a delayed Charity Shield with defending cup winners against defending league champions. An English equivalent might have been the likes of Spurs against Everton maybe who each have differing and very necessary reasons to win an FA Cup. For that reason, it would have been very appealing. Any issues surrounding crowd size must come way behind that.

But if you have problems with Ballinamallard being in the final then I am afraid sport and football are not for you. The very aortic attraction of football is that over ninety minutes anything can happen. Once you accept that you have ‘got’ one of the key aspects of football. No doubt you and your team have benefitted from that tenet at some point in your time as a fan. If you have and you now have problems with minor clubs in finals then you are wanting it all ways up. Gateau and manger in French I believe.

That mindset is the social equivalent of when asked to a party replying with “Who’s going?”. In short, it doesn’t paint you in a good light as in effect you are not appreciating the invitation and wondering if it is good enough for you. You can start extrapolating this out, if you like, into football terms, as you set about engineering what might suit you best. If you do you’ll soon find yourself in the middle of modern big-time football. Very simply it becomes a financial carve-up and a set of parameters to ensure the big clubs stay big.

Some would state the Premiership in England is exactly that. Others would tell you the G14 clubs were that plus VAT. Anyway, you get the point. It is an abnormal state of affairs to create a pre-prepared outcome. That outcome nowadays is, of course, to do with money. Once money is involved, the good of the game is secondary. Taking it back to people, those whose big thing in life is money are fairly grim types as well.

It’s getting interesting here. I have seen many Irish League fans argue a point one way and then with their English Premiership league team hat on, argue the same point completely the other way. You don’t like pointing out the contradiction to them as it’s funnier seeing them work it out for themselves. That said, the exercise gets too uncomfortably close to local politics here which swims in that sort of stuff. Integrity versus self-interest is a fascinating but generally grim viewing experience.

It’s actually better illustrated with both Irish international teams. Test yourself on that. The Euros were great in 2016 but neither team added much to the footballing quality of the tournament. Perhaps in the stands, yes, but on the pitch, both teams were the Carrick and Ballinamallard of European football, whether we like it or not. For the hoi-polloi of football, the Irish teams are the sort of teams you play in the earlier rounds with a smile on your face.

The other issue here, which I alluded to with the mention of TV, is exposure. Some of the less mentally robust here get defensive about the profile of Irish League football. A small crowd at a major event makes them feel small. Hmmm! Let’s hope it’s not a windy day in case you get blown over. For you are starting to bow to those types I mentioned who ask who’s going to the party. The types who look to see what the crowd attendance is like before pronouncing something nauseous designed to elevate themselves.

As I have mentioned before you are dealing with event-attendees. There is little substance to them. You get them at concerts too. As one rock star lamented about American concert-goers as he despaired about their shallowness.
Play me something I can shake my ass to,” was all they could shout as they chatted away to each other as if they were in the shopping mall. Know the difference. I think most reading these types of site generally do.

I mentioned the 1976 final in the opening paragraph. Then, as in England, football was for football fans. It still is here. This is not some misty-eyed wish for those times. The Irish League has never been as competitive as it is these days. The Irish Cup I think started getting sponsorship in the early eighties maybe. Perhaps earlier and that’s great. Sponsorship is important to the game, especially at part-time level and everyone is grateful. But when you hear things like the sponsors not being happy over finalists ……well what does that mean? Or is that really true and commentators and fans just say that to cover their own issues.

If Ballinamallard were to win the cup there would be some ongoing coverage over the 2019 final. Interestingly there was a similar scenario in England in 1976. The football world really would have preferred a Derby/ Man United FA Cup final. Groans were aplenty at the semi-final draw as it meant a lower division team in the final. But not for insecure issues like crowd size, and of course the 1976 final has gone into historical lore.

For those from Fermanagh, it is huge and will be a landmark for many people all their lives, win or lose. Fermanagh has come quite a long way in general football consciousness from the days when senior football didn’t stretch beyond Portadown. Ballinamallard, of course, have led this and of course, a few NI internationals from the county have flown the flag high. So stretching the senior game into parts less touched has to be a good thing.

On a different plane but in a similar vein, that is what UEFA should be doing with the game. They argue they are ploughing money back into the game at lower levels but you wouldn’t be sure would you? So you would hope that the IFA are delighted with their final as they have that perfect opportunity to extend the game and perhaps have a bit of history. You would hope that.

Ironically the crowd may well get event-attendees to bolster it due to the quirk of the two teams competing. I just wouldn’t put my trust and faith in any event-attender as a general rule. They certainly won’t have the best interests of football at heart. I do appreciate I am being perhaps unduly harsh here as they will always be part of football. That, of course, is because football is societal and football will reflect society. Such then is the baggage of the global game. Does anyone want to eat my cake?