AN IRISHMAN'S DIARY

 

TWO qualities are needed by any commercial organisation which deals with people: one is a concern for the comfort of those people and the other is a desire to communicate with them.

These are the qualities conspicuously absent from the IRFU; and having got two primary duties wrong - the care of and communication with the people who finance the entire structure of rugby in Ireland - is it altogether surprising that in my opinion, the rulers of Irfuland are getting everything else wrong as well?

Professional rugby needs professional players certainly; but it needs professional customer care in a professional venue as well. Much of the palace at Irfuland in Lansdowne Road was built on the social principles which reigned before the Great War.

The general presumption seems to be that if men with ground tickets need a lavatory it is for bladderly purposes only; and if they manage to find a cubicle, it will be without a seat, without paper and will certainly stink.

As for the women's facilities, I am, alas, without experience ... and already I can hear the hearty guffaws, haw haw haw, hands hitting thighs, Begod he's on about the jacks now, isn't that a good one.

Sorry. It is not. It is a barbarous primitivism to assemble two score thousand people in a small area for much of an afternoon and not provide for fundamental bodily requirements. Assuming we all empty our bowels once during the course of 16 hours of wakefulness, in the course of the approximately two hours one spends in Lansdowne Road for a match, some 5,000 people will need a water-closet and paper, no matter to what class, sex or nation they belong.

Abandon All Hope

An American football ground would be built around that assumption; the governors of Irfuland point you in the general direction of the open expanses of the training pitch or to their disgusting Irfuloos, reeking of the urine of generations.

In stadiums elsewhere, you can buy beers and hot food and drinks - but not in Irfuland. Once you enter Irfuland, you might as well abandon any hopes of nourishment, no matter how cold you are and no matter how vile the day. Is it any wonder that so many people turn up late in the palace of Irfuland?

I have been to stadiums in Britain, Australia, Germany, South Africa, Italy where it is a pleasure to be inside nice and early and enjoy some refreshment, relax in the seats, talk to people. But the bleak and inhospitable cliff-faces of Irfuland, on the other hand, provide an environment where you spend as little time as possible, and absolutely no money - not even a penny.

No doubt many of you might think that the matter of press facilities does not concern you. It does, especially if you read about rugby as well as watching it. Journalists in the Landowne Road press box, who might have deadlines the moment the match is over, have no access to television sets to enable them see action-replays.

The couch potatoes snoozing at home before the fire and the box can watch endless replays of controversial moments in a game and can analyse them and judge them. The occupants of the Lansdowne Road press box are frantically asking one another throughout a match "Who did that?" and "What happened there?"

The snug and the warm at home probably could tell them; the rugby journalists who have to write about it, or give live insert-reports to radio stations, not merely in Ireland but abroad too, can only surmise. Viewers at home often know more about a match in Irfuland than those unlucky enough to be reporting from its very heart.

Pressing Needs

For Irfucomm is stone-age, intellectually and organisationally on a par with the vile Irfuloos; and amongst international venues which I visited throughout the world, utterly unique. Only an organisation which feels utter contempt for or sublime indifference to the actual requirements of working journalists would construct a press box without the fundamental tool of the trade in modern times - an action-replay facility.

Predictably, internal communications and crowd stewarding within Irfuland are strictly pre-Hillsborough. In my opinion, there can be potentially dangerous overcrowding at certain predictable choke-points, inevitably as spectators pour in at kick-off time. I am not impressed by the stewarding on the terraces and the loudspeakers - when they work, which is not always - issue instructions as blithely as if people were at home and knew the layout of the ground intimately.

Ten minutes into every match, instead of using a colour-coding system which visitors could understand, the loudspeakers issue instructions to people in "the Havelock square end" to move forward and to the right, and those in "the Lansdowne Road end" to move to the right and for 10-year-old Johnny Patterson from Edinburgh to meet his father behind the Lansdowne pavilion at half time.

But thousands of people visiting Irfuland will have no idea which terrace is which, never mind be able to find dad behind the Wanderers (rather than the Landsdowne) pavilion.

Lost in Irfuland

Is that relevent to our Irfulords? Probably not. The ideal visitors to Irfuland speak Irfu. They instinctively know the east stand from the west stand and they don't mind being treated like galley-slaves on a works outing. They probably bring their slops bucket with them and, after using the bucket, make do for personal hygiene with some chip-wrapping paper acquired from a stall outside the ground.

They don't mind being cold and wet and standing on uncovered, windswept, rainlashed concrete terraces, without decent lavatories or any prospect of a hot drink or a warm snack. They don't mind being funnelled in and out of tiny entrances and up and down stairwells where, one imagines, a crowd-surge could one day cause catastrophe. And at the end of the match, they don't mind slinking off in the sleeting rain while the mandarins of Irfu retire to the free bar and sandwiches and loads of warm and cosy bonhomie.

A word in the ear of these mandarins. The ideal visitor to Irfu does not exist. That unreformed slum that is Lansdowne Road is a national disgrace and an insult to the thousands of good and decent Irish people, who support rugby and to the thousands who come here from abroad.

One day, oh Irfulords, you might face manslaughter charges if Lansdowne Road were to nudge out Hillsborough in the litany of footballing calamities, though not I hasten to reassure you, if the teams you choose to represent Ireland continue to play as the Irfuteam did on Saturday. There will be no possibly lethal crowd-surges in Irfuland; because, my friends, Irfuland, will be empty.