Ridiculous off-season stalling clubs progress
Article by Kieran Burke - @KieranBTS.
The date is September 22nd 2018 and Longford Town’s players and supporters have just shuffled out of the impressive City Calling Stadium for the very last time this calendar year. An enthralling second-half of football against First Division champions UCD is the last action Town fans will see until the roller-coaster of competitive football takes off again in late February. To put that into simple terms it will be five full months before “De Town” supporters take to their seats again at the Strokestown Road venue.
Obviously, one will argue Neale Fenn and his players are the ones who fell short in their bid to reach the end of season play-offs, which could have extended the supporters interest into early November, and that is a fair point. However, Longford Town were in fact one of the lucky ones out of the seven other second-tier teams who have also reached the end of the road this season. For the likes of Galway United, Cabinteely, Wexford etc. their stadiums had resembled unpopular local libraries long before the end of September with attendances, atmosphere, media coverage and general interest in the clubs affairs at ultra low ebbs. Again, critics will point out the respective teams poor showings on the field this season and how results and league positions will naturally dictate the above factors. However, is it right that our leagues most vulnerable clubs should now face into the double-whammy of one of the longest off-seasons in Europe? How are these struggling clubs expected to not only survive but grow going forward when supporters interest will now be shifted to the many other entertainment options for a prolonged period of time?
Looking at this situation from a Longford Town perspective, this season saw an impressive home gate increase of 40% on last season, thanks to the Midlanders new off-field focus on improved social media and marketing plans. For a team that did not make the play-offs to achieve such a result is testament to the clubs newly appointed media manager, James Donnelly and his work this season, however how difficult does it now become for the club to retain a large portion of this newly found/lapsed support given the fact there is no competitive football to market for almost half-a-year! When you say it like that it really does strike home the ludicrous nature of such a drawn out close season.
The reason for such a lengthy break in proceedings? Simply put, clubs prefer a shorter regular season in order to reduce the length of player contracts and with First Division sides normally being part-time, players do not want to play mid-week games like their Premier Division counterparts, who this season play four rounds of league games as opposed to the three rounds played out in the First Division. While the eagerness to avoid over-repetitive fixtures taking place in the First Division is understandable a better solution must be found if the First Division is ever to become a league where clubs can continue to grow and not just hope for year on year survival.
What that solution may very well be is the million dollar question should the powers that be show the initiative to tackle a problem that is holding back any clubs showing ambition to kick on to the next level despite their second-tier status.