IF I WAS a rich man I’d spend my money on a soccer club – so maybe I wouldn’t be all that long in becoming a poor man again.
But maybe not. Even if in possession of Abramovich/Qatar Foundation Champions-League-levels of wealth, I’d invest in a new non-league team.
The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced an Irish club – with the right location and the right backing – could climb the divisions and become fully professional even faster than such life-affirming stories as AFC Wimbledon and FC United.
There are no professional clubs in England that have sprung from green roots, which is amazing when you consider the human traffic that has flowed from the towns and hills of Ireland into the industrial sprawls of the English south-east, midlands and north-west.
Of course, clubs like Manchester United, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal, QPR and Spurs all have a strong Irish heritage but there’s no London Celtic or Birmingham Hibs. In a way, this illustrates how the Irish weren’t as ghettoised in England as they were in Glasgow.
The Irish working class felt comfortable standing alongside their English equivalents on the terraces. Football clubs have united people from different backgrounds more than they have divided them in this country down through the decades. The game rarely gets its due credit for this.
There was never a green-collared London club because there was never a necessity for one. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for one now.
Today’s need isn’t for an outlet to a discriminated-against ethnic group on the wings of society, more a potential focal point for a large, growing, confident community; an opportunity to show pride in where you came from and where you’re at.
The fact that this would be a movement built from the grass roots up would also be part of the appeal. There’s a lot not to like about big-time soccer in the modern age.
I’m a Tottenham fan and always will be. I love watching them play and still get a buzz when they win and down in the heart when they’re beaten. But in 25 seasons plus as a fan, I’ve never felt as detached from the club as I do now. This is strange given that Spurs have a better team now than they’ve ever had in my memory.
The trouble is it’s all so divorced from reality: Players earning more in a couple of days than fans do in a year; a board desperate to move Tottenham to east London despite the fact that very few supporters think this is appropriate; having to splash out for club membership before you can even apply for tickets to bigger games.
Really, the older I get the less I can be bothered with it all. There comes a stage when you have to either stop complaining about the ritual exploitation of your loyalty and just shut up or opt out.
I’ve pretty much opted out but I don’t want to spend all my time complaining about the vulgarity of contemporary footie. I’d rather invest time and energy in something positive; something new.
I envy fans of FC United and AFC Wimbledon. They have the chance to support and shape fresh fan-based ventures.
A similar club for Irish people in London would be electrifying. To reiterate, I’m not talking about some bunker where rebel songs fuel a siege mentality; I imagine a small, central London ground where fans from Ireland and the rest of the world would gather to cheer on a team wearing green.
In time, the ground could grow to accommodate the new arrivals. It would take years to reach the football league and be a professional club but the journey is usually more memorable than the destination.
In marketing (due warning, you can skip the next two paragraphs and not lose out on much. They exist because I am determined to get a small, overdue return for the three years I spent studying marketing at Cork IT in the late 1990s before I decided to pursue a less lucrative life in journalism) folks speak of the product lifecycle.
First you’ve got problem child – where you need high investment for little immediate return. If that succeeds you have yourself a ‘star’ – high growth and high returns. This gives way to ‘cash cow’ where the growth slows but the market share is still high. Eventually you’re left with a ‘dog’, which doesn’t require much in the way of an explanation. Most big clubs are boring cash cows now. Some are dogs. If you’re a wealthy Irish business man or woman with an interest in sport, wouldn’t you have more fun with a problem child than a cash cow?
If not, let me appeal to your romantic side. You’ve got money so, let’s face it, you’re probably getting on in decades. There’s a Greek proverb that says: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
Brother Walfrid could never have imagined the amount of people in Glasgow and Ireland who would take sanctuary and sustenance in the Celtic Football Club since its founding in 1888.
The London Irish community can fuel a soccer club down here that can, in time, be equally as great as the Bhoys from the London Road. But it needs someone with a few quid to light the fire; gone are the days when a monk had the means to launch a team that would eventually conquer Europe.
Today the green dream would need to be backed by a little more gold. So if you have the means, why not give it a try? There are a lot worse things to spend your fortune and Saturday afternoons on than dreams and the glory game.