One of the reasons I love League of Ireland football is because it is almost totally devoid of all the trappings of our modern day capitalist culture. A bit hypocritical you might say considering I go to Spurs most weeks but if it does ever come to a choice between the two, Ryanair to Stansted and the Yids will be the principal losers.
With a few notable (and costly) exceptions (Shels; Drogheda; etc) Irish football remains substantially untouched by the blight that has beset the beautiful game in other territories – the replica shirts, the over-paid prima-donnas, the inflated prices and the pure greed. To its' loyal devotees, this is part of its' endearing charm.
In this regard, its' position in the soccer world can be likened strongly to Punk's position in the musical world of the seventies.
Punk became the alternative for a small section of the populace who felt under-represented in the wider culture, and more acutely in its’ musical façade. Pre-punk music was conformist and mass-produced – three minutes of pop, produced by chinnichap and retailing at one ninety nine, not two pounds. The punk movement arrived and quickly became about more than just the music – it described attitude, appearance and social status. It also represented a lifestyle, one born out of opposition to those in power.
It also started dying as soon it reached any form of public consciousness - once it lost its underground, subversive and anarchic nature, it effectively lost its’ core appeal. If League of Ireland football was to obtain national appeal, and as a result ultimately become a commodity, sold and marketed by financial vehicles rater than football clubs, its’ attraction would diminish immeasurably to those who love and support it.
Again, the key to this is community. As more and more money is pumped in, the game automatically moves further away from its' community basis. Some players earn more in a week than many fans earn in a lifetime, and perpetuate this gulf with appalling egotistical and self-centred behaviour, unacceptable to those who effectively pay the wages.
In some recent club formations - FC United of Manchester and AFC Wimbledon - the importance of community is written in the very charter of the club. Perhaps these two are the best examples of ‘punk’ clubs in England. Both were set up as a mark of protest, or reaction, to something that had happened to the club to which the fans were previously connected. This parallel with punk’s heyday seems to stand out and whatever ones view on FCUM, they must be applauded for doing something about the issue impacting them.
Some other clubs have sadly gone the other way – Chelsea and Manchester City are obvious examples - but worst still are the examples from further down the League where small community clubs are purloined by high-rollers to be used as playthings in the ultimate pursuit of medium-term financial goals. This weekend we will see one such club in the middle of this journey reach new heights with their first televised game on the national airwaves. Crawley Town away to Manchester United, and perversely - guess which one is the big-spender?
With assets and wage bills larger than most clubs in League 1 (funded through large capital injections by their anonymous new owners - "a group of people in the far east"), Crawley Town have become the Chelsea of non-league football. They have set about a strategy of buying success in the same way as Chelsea did and have become equally as unpopular, even it is at the lower level of non-league football.
Their unpopularity is also fuelled by the abrasive manager Steve Evans, who despite proving himself a capable non-league manager, has "a bit of baggage" as they say. The FA banned him from the touchline for 12 matches in 2008-09 for improper conduct and 13 in 2009-10, including three when he was not allowed in the ground. In November 2006 Evans was convicted for his part in a £245,000 tax fraud committed when he was manager at Boston United, failing to pay tax on the players' wages, and was given a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. Put the whole package together and you've got a very poor representation of what the game should be about.
And so, for the first time in my life, I will be cheering Manchester United tomorrow and hoping that they can live up to their billing as overwhelming favourites and romantic "overdogs".
Let’s hope that the Romance of the Cup falls flat on its’ face this Saturday evening.