Realists 1 Romantics 0: money talks in Irish soccer
By relying on a billionaire benefactor, the Football Association of Ireland is undermining the bond between fans and team
There’s a deeper phenomenon here, brilliantly explored by the philosopher Michael Sandel in his book What Money Can’t Buy, and it’s how public goods are devalued when a price is put on them.
A pertinent example is the creation of naming rights for sports stadiums, which Sandel points out has subtly altered the relationship of such communal venues with the public. “Imprinting things with corporate logos changes their meaning,” he writes. Citizens become service users.
Fans become consumers. Can any Irish supporters really say it makes no difference if they’re cheering at the Aviva Stadium rather than at Lansdowne Road? (The IRFU has a case to answer here, too.)
The FAI will argue that the deal changes nothing. O’Brien part-funded the previous management team, and, in any event, if the association wasn’t looking for money from individuals it would look for it from companies. And, by the way, it might add, it was the likes of Opel that paid Charlton’s salary.
One might liken O’Brien’s contribution, then, to that of a village shopkeeper buying up tickets for the local GAA lottery and then handing the prize back to the club. To this a sporting realist might add that the illusion of shared ownership is just that: an illusion.
But the romantic says differently: that the Republic of Ireland soccer team is public property – as much Joxer’s as Delaney’s. To sustain belief in the boys in green you need to feel that you are an equal part of the 12th man, the boisterous collective that is inextricably linked to the team’s fortunes.
It would be unfair to say the FAI has created a 13th man in O’Brien. But in soliciting this channel of funding, and in the process establishing yet another leadership team that is effectively beyond our means, the association has subtly altered the ordinary fan’s perspective of his or her relationship with the side.
And it comes when we are already somewhat alienated by watching players with the combined income of a small nation state, and by sitting in a stadium named after a company that has just hiked up our insurance premiums – again.
Peek behind the curtain of Irish football and you realise the FAI is not a democracy, and “we” are something of a charity case.
The head says “olé olé” but the heart wonders if romantic Republic of Ireland is dead and gone.