A fans survey on the League of Ireland and Irish football as a whole, run by Dr. Adam Brown of Substance, a Manchester based social research co-op has offered a great insight into the level of involvement fans have with their clubs and how it can be improved.
The Irish study formed a part of a wider European study, where fans in each country would have to answer specific questions relating to the running of their club and football in their country. The surveys, which were conducted online, took place between September and October. 1,262 Irish football fans completed the survey, the vast majority (34.2%) of which were Cork City fans, followed by Shamrock Rovers (15.4%) in second place.
Some interesting findings arose from the statistics relating to which fans completed the quiz. 1.7% or 26 respondents were fans of the now defunct Galway United while fans of Manchester United (1.6%) and Liverpool (1.1%) finished ahead of Longford Town (1%) who had the fewest respondents. Bray Wanderers and UCD were the only two Premier Division clubs whose fans offered no views while fans of first division sides Athlone Town, Mervue United, Salthill Devon (SD Galway) and Wexford Youths did likewise.
The average age of supporters surveyed was 32 while the average length of time that fans have supported their clubs was 18 years. Unsurprisingly 95% of respondents where male.
Interestingly a large proportion of fans (59.5%) admitted that they are not a member of a supporter’s organisation at their club. Of those who revealed they are a member of such an organisation, 44.4% said the organisation is one which exists as a members group that owns shares in their club. This correlates to the fact that most of the fans who took this survey are Cork City fans and as a result this statistic is unsurprising given the recent ownership history of the famed Rebel Army. Other answers showed that there is little difference between official club sanctioned fan organisations (23.7%) and independent fan organisations (20.9%).
Fans revealed the main purposes of such groups were to get or maintain a share of ownership (30.5%), to raise money for the club (20.6%) and to improve the matchday atmosphere (16.3%). Fans are certainly more involved at club level than national level, perhaps due to the current state of the Irish national team. Only 4.9% of respondents belong to a national supporter’s organisation.
League of Ireland fans are among the most committed in the world, willing to follow their team the length and breadth of the country. It’s therefore surprising that most (41.9%) feel they have little involvement in their club, only on rare occasions. Is it a case that clubs have enough volunteers and support or that fans aren’t too interested in helping out? Clubs should certainly endear themselves more to these fans in an attempt to increase their involvement, something which will be beneficial to all and comes at a time when the League of Ireland is in great need of everyone pulling in the same direction. 22.2% professed they have no involvement whatsoever, claiming they are almost completely ignored. How can any club, be it in Ireland or elsewhere, survive by ignoring such a percentage of fans? 82.7% of fans revealed they have no involvement at national level which is of no surprise as recent trends have shown that the FAI possess little or no desire for fan involvement.
42.4% expressed an interest in joining a supporter’s organisation that had the aim of getting/maintaining an ownership stake at their club with 9.8% saying they wouldn’t be interested, with a further 16.7% believing it wouldn’t achieve anything. Fans highlighted the main benefits of such a move which includes the club board listens to fans more (69.2%), maintaining an ownership stake (55.7%) and getting representation on the board (53.7%). 39.8% of fans revealed they wouldn’t join a national supporters organisation as the association/league will never listen (37.1%) and because they are not interested (34.5%). 33.8% admitted they would join such an organisation.
One of the most striking findings emerging from this study is that 60.4% of respondents are very unsatisfied with the way football is run in Ireland. Bear in mind that the fans answering the questions in this study are by enlarge devout League of Ireland followers, fans that have watched clubs such as Monaghan United, Dublin City, Kilkenny City, Sporting Fingal and Galway United go bust in recent years. Fans that have seen endless scandals from points deductions due to financial irregularities and player registration issues. It’s no surprise they are fed up with the way the footballing authorities allow the game to become a laughing stock, something which won’t help bring armchair Premier League fans to Irish stadiums. Is it not the mission of the FAI and the league to entice such fans to League of Ireland matches? If anything their actions are forcing fans away rather than bringing them in.
51.1% of fans are however satisfied with the way their club is run, with only 8.3% saying they are unsatisfied.
Respondents were asked to list two single words which best described the running of football of Ireland. Among the top answers were shambolic, poor, amateur, shambles ,corrupt, disgraceful, terrible and unprofessional. Positive answers were sadly few and far between, with fans instead tending to focus on the unhealthy state of the game, something that has existed for such a long time yet we are yet to see any significant changes.
Irish institutions are certainly out of touch with the people, be it government or sporting organisation. They fail to see what matters at ground level, they refuse to listen to those who in reality have a far greater sense of perspective and who can build a better future. Football in Ireland is the exact same, 38.9% of fans believe greater supporter ownership or involvement would improve the running of their club a lot with only 3.1% stating it wouldn’t improve it at all. On a national level, 52.4% believe that such would improve the running of football in Ireland. Sadly these figures are unlikely to strike any chord with the powerbrokers at Abbotstown.
24.4% of fans believe that UEFA’s financial fair play rules won’t improve the running of football in Ireland at all.
An overwhelming 97.4% of fans would like to see an organisation established that would allow League of Ireland supporters to have meaningful input into issues affecting the Airtricity League. Fans were also asked what are the biggest factors facing supporter groups in securing a shareholding within their club, with answers including finance (48.9%), little support from the wider football community (33.1%) and current club owners unwilling to cede any control (21.3%).
League of Ireland supporters ranked their main priorities as ensuring the long term stability of their club (78%), being able to watch their team every week (57%) and having an active underage structure producing players (35.3%). 68.9% of supporters believe their clubs main priority is the same.
This study is one that was long overdue. It contains fundamental elements for progress at both national and club level. The opportunities arising from such a study are endless. The way football is run in this country needs a serious revamp but sadly it may take a long time for Brown’s findings to come to fruition such is the ill mannered and outdated policies of both the FAI and the League of Ireland.