Incompetence leaves cup fans suffering

 

A FRIEND and a fellow fan of the domestic game brought his two children, aged 10 and 12, to Dalymount Park for last Friday night's FAI Cup semi final between Bohemians and St Patrick's Athletic. Despite repeated pleadings with one of those trumped up, power happy stewards we all hate the world over, lie was not allowed accompany his children through the same turnstile, instead having to join another queue for 15 minutes while they waited inside in a crowd that was building up towards 12,000.

He seriously considered taking his children home and skipping the match altogether. Nor, on the general scale of things, was his the biggest beef of the night. For many in the huge crowd, they had to stand and wait for 28 minutes as the kick off was delayed twice.

During these delays, all sorts of rum ours began emanating from outside the ground, and several supporters have since confirmed that the stewards did not have the change to facilitate the thousands who did not have the requisite £6 for entry to the terracing. It could have seemed easier to allow admission for £5. (Mind you, another supporter told me chat after initially presenting a £20 note to a steward he was granted access for what small change he had on his person - £2.)

A mere 24 hours later, and the majority of the 6,000 crowd who attended the Sligo Shelbourne semi final in the Showgrounds were also kept waiting 20 minutes for the kick off. It was announced that this was at the request of the Garda. This was indeed surprising, or this reporter gained access to the ground no more than ten minutes before the appointed kick off time without the slightest delay or sign of a queue. The vast majority of the crowd already seemed to be inside.

RTE Radio had requested a 7.15pm kick off to accommodate their live commentary and tight scheduling due to the proximity of the live transmission of the Easter vigil. Hence, for the second night running, the national broadcasting station was forced to abandon its live commentary minutes before the end.

What message all of this will have conveyed to the aggregate attendance of 18,000 or the radio listeners heaven knows. Something along the lines of plus ca change (and no change at the turnstiles) I suppose.

In time honoured tradition the official receipts of £25,000 from Dalymount Park were risible. For starters Bohemians had upped the price of the tickets to the main stand to £10. The club has drastically reduced its number of "freeloaders" this season, one steward; recently vowing it would never reach a high of 360 again.

Even if it was 500 on Friday, this left 2,000 who payed £10 each. Even by Bohemians admission, there was a further 5,000 on the terraces, (in most neutrals' estimation that figure was at least 8,000 if not 10,000) and they would have paid £6 (in most cases) with £2 for boys and girls.

Thus, by the most conservative estimations the receipts should have been in the region of £46,000. By my calculations the figure should have been around the £65,000 mark.

Whatever, this was a welcome injection of cash but more importantly a great opportunity to sell the game to a wider audience. It was lost, damningly, not least because the match itself was awful (on Saturday morning RTE's Sports Stadium could only make four and a half minutes out of the entire second half).

The widespread criticisms would have hurt the two managers Turlough O'Connor and Brian Kerr (an avid and sensitive reader of all reports) as well as some of the players involved. But the bottom line is that they are in the entertainment industry. What would their wages be like if 12 rather than 12,000 started coming to their games?

Can the clubs and the FAI honestly put their hands on their hearts and say they are doing everything they can do to bring more people back to the game?

A frustrated fan wrote to me after last year's FAI Cup final. He had been delayed travelling across town by the May Day rally, and didn't arrive until half time. Despite trying every turnstile there were no stewards present who could or would grant him access. He also wrote to the FAI and informed them that he and his children would not be attending any more domestic games.

Then there was the annual mess up over fixtures brought about by the semi final weekend clashing with a full league programme. All sorts of unsatisfactory amendments were made to the fixture schedules, such as splitting the proposed semi final replay dates by over a week, with the result that yesterday's fixtures could only be finalised in the light of Saturday night's results. Pathetic. Only in Ireland.

Across the water, the English. FA has been rightly pilloried for the exhorbitant prices that resulted in vast rows of empty seats at their Cup semi finals. Their response, that they would review their structure but not their prices, smacked off arrogance.

If only the FAI had something to be arrogant about. No, last weekend were just further examples of incompetence. Once again the FAI gives the impression that they just don't know what they are doing, or that they just don't care - not least about the fans.