Bertie Bowl touches a nerve


Well, well, well, Ross O'Carroll-Kelly's dad would appear to have his finger on the pulse after all. Of all the rugby issues addressed by this column none it seems (with the possible exception of shared anger from readers over the IRFU's shabby treatment of Connacht this season, and now thankfully to be rescinded) touched a nerve quite like the vexed and proposed move to the Bertie Bowl in Abbotstown in 2005.

Whether or not this is a barometer of feelings amongst Irish supporters in general, the views are almost unanimously opposed to the move. The predominant theme is a palpable fear that the Bertie Bowl goes against the trend of sports stadiums around the world being relocated to downtown sites.

Brian Norton, a self-professed "sport-loving Dubliner, now living in Australia", notes that "in the late 1960s the AFL (Aussie Rules equivalent of the GAA) got fed up bickering with the cricket-managed MCG (read FAI and IRFU here) and built their own state of the art stadium in the so called "population centre" of Melbourne - the suburbs (i.e. Abbotstown).

"Fast forward 30 years and guess what? Yes, they knocked it down and have just completed a new stadium in the docklands? Why? Because it's easy to walk to from the city, is close to pubs and `craic'. Now Melburnians get to have a big laugh at Sydneysiders and their massive Olympic white elephant that is Homebush."

"Viewing from afar," he adds, "I can't understand all the fuss. It's simple - build the Bertie Dome in the docklands or at least somewhere where you can walk to from the city. Come to think of it maybe redeveloping Dalymount or Lansdowne is not so bad after all?"

John Purcell, another Irishman abroad (in London) writes: "For the IRFU to consider abandoning the most special ground in the world is treachery, stupidity and short-sightedness of the most heinous kind. They look around the world and see these magnificent edifices, monuments in glass, concrete and steel. Agreed they are of themselves superb engineering achievements and make Lansdowne Road look like a little shed.

"However stadiums are not like cathedrals or other monuments. They exist for a specific reason i.e. match day. They are not about aesthetic beauty but rather about the people coming to the place to bring what was once dead to life. People from all over the world recount of the marvellous weekends in Dublin on the back of 80 minutes of rugby in the little shed. The `golden mile' from Lansdowne Road along Baggot Street and into town is the stuff of legends."

Ed French makes a two-fold counterproposal, namely the Abbotstown development in all its glory but with a 20,000 capacity for a track and separate 5060,000 seat stadium in the docklands.

"That way everyone would get what they want and the punters would still get to go to matches in a ground that was in the city. All the great stadia that are a joy to visit, like Fenway Park, the Nou Camp or Highbury are in the centre of the city. In the USA the new ballparks are now moving back into the cities having left them in the 1970s and 1980s. I really don't think there is a lot of snobbishness involved in the love for the D4 location of the ground. It is just the best location for a stadium in the city and also the oldest surviving rugby international ground in the world.

"Sadly redeveloping Lansdowne Road is probably not an option as I reckon that by the time planning permission is secured we will be able to get to the Abbotstown stadium by particle accelerated time-warp LUAS."

This sample is symptomatic of many other emails on the same theme. Yet, however much CSID and the IRFU make a success of match days in Abbotstown, sadly, the notion of redeveloping Lansdowne Road makes little economic sense. u100 million.

According to the Union's chief executive Philip Browne, given spiralling building costs that "the reality is there wouldn't be much change out of £150 million". Furthermore, knocking down and turning around Lansdowne Road would cost even more, never mind the protracted planning process.

??????????u8 million, not to mention underpinning the club game, coaching, the academies and a host of other aspects to the game, that would be ploughing all the Union's rescources and more effectively into concrete. As even some of the wiseacres in the GAA and the FAI are now starting to note, where is the wisdom in that when set against investing in all other areas of their sports.

Becoming a tenant at Abbotstown on specific match days would also enable the Union to develop other grounds (also badly needed) around the country at provincial and club level. Nor would Lansdowne Road be lost. It could then be redeveloped into a 35,000-all-seater or thereabouts, and thus become a creditable secondary ground for lesser internationals, schools finals, European Cup games and the like.

With demand exceeding supply as things stand, at a stroke, the clamour for tickets which grossly distorts black market valuations especially for the biennial English game, would be greatly reduced, making home internationals more accessible to the general public as well as the clubs, not to mention rival Unions, whom the IRFU cannot currently satisfy. In addition, the Union would assuredly increase their revenue from big home internationals in Abbotstown.

All in all, the IRFU's decision makes graphic economic sense. The alternative could be to leave Irish rugby a financial hostage to tradition for many years to come.