TO STRETCH AN analogy, football clubs are a lot like families. For better or for worse, you’re born and reared with your club, often without a choice. It’s there in the good times and the bad, for the smiles and for the tears (and often a contributing factor to both extremes).
Football clubs have a rather unique sense of community, a precious relationship between what Bill Shankly once famously described as the “holy trinity” — the players, the manager and fans.
This bond of kinship is precisely why football fans get so obstreperous when one of their terrace idols decides to go his own way and leaves to join a rival; Bart Simpson moving in with Ned Flanders pales in comparison with such treason.
Take a look at last weekend’s Premier League action at the Sports Direct Arena, Tyneside’s equivalent of Hunky Dory Park. Liverpool fans may be getting a little bit restless waiting for Andy Carroll to live up to his £35m price tag (or even a fraction of that), but their murmurs of discontent were nothing compared with the merciless baiting by the very same Newcastle fans who once worshipped him.
Even Jose Enrique, a man who seems like quite an inoffensive character, was booed every time he touched the ball.
The examples are legion, the lesson clear. When you leave a club, you leave forever. You’re no longer part of the family.
Tonight in the Airtricity League Premier Division, all eyes will be on Richmond Park when two of the three sides still unbeaten in the top flight, St Patrick’s Athletic and Shamrock Rovers, go to head to head in one of the league’s now weekly Dublin derbys.
There’s always a sense of familiarity when two city rivals meet, but tonight is shaping up to be one of those awkward occasions where you know you’ll bump into loads of those annoying cousins you never speak to any more.
Six of the St Pat’s squad that drew with Shelbourne last weekend have been on the books at Rovers at one time or another over the last four seasons. Three of them — five if you include the injured Aidan Price and the suspended Dean Kelly — have league winners’ medals from their time in Tallaght. Their manager, Liam Buckley, won a league with Rovers as a player and spent time in the Hoops dugout as well.
The logistics of a sustaining a league in a small country like Ireland are different, of course. The talent pool of top-level players and managers is shallow, and as a result, a revolving door of inter-league moves is almost inevitable.
Given the country’s current cash-strapped status, players’ footloose nature is even less surprising. These are people with lives to live and families to support. Is it that unrealistic that their heads might be turned by a better contract or, at the very least, a guarantee that their wages will be paid regularly and promptly?
Still the boos ring out, as they surely will from the away end in Inchicore tonight whenever Ian Bermingham, Sean O’Connor or James Chambers get on the ball. Last weekend, as he prepared for a game against his old club Bohemians, Killian Brennan of Shamrock Rovers conceded that if he was up in the stands, he’d probably boo himself too.
It’s never nice when a player leaves, particularly if the move is to a rival or in order to boost their own chances of success, but it’s a fact of life. The one-club careerists are few and far between now; the rapport and relationship which they build up with the fans should be treasured all the more because of that.
But lay off everybody else. It’s not disloyal. It’s just the way it is.
Airtricity League fixtures (Friday, 7.45pm unless stated)
- St Patrick’s Athletic v Shamrock Rovers (Friday, 7.05pm)
- Bohemian FC v Cork City
- Bray Wanderers v Sligo Rovers
- Derry City v UCD
- Dundalk v Shelbourne
- Monaghan United v Drogheda United (Friday, 8pm)
- Athlone Town v Wexford Youths
- Limerick v Longford Town
- Mervue United v Waterford United
- Finn Harps v SD Galway