The withdrawal from the League of Ireland of Kilkenny City Football club shows how difficult it is now for League of Ireland clubs to manage and survive in professional or semi-professional football. Fortunately for Waterford, we still have a League of Ireland club even if the team has not been able to recapture the success of the golden era of the 1960s and 70s.
Last week at the Park Hotel Awards, soccer star Shane Robinson spoke about how in Drogheda most the young people were now wearing Drogheda United shirts around the town. At least, here in Waterford, we have a very a successful championship hurling team and the pride in the white and blue is there to be seen during the summer.
The same level of loyalty does not apply to soccer as the youth in schools seem to pay more interest to the English Premiership soccer league than the League of Ireland. It is hard for local clubs to compete with the vast marketing resources of their English counterparts. Intensive TV and daily newspaper coverage of the English clubs and their transfers of players and manager troubles puts the League of Ireland clubs in the shade.
Some of the clubs in Ireland, like Drogheda and St. Patrick’s Athletic, do have stronger financial support with some very successful developers getting behind them and picking up some of the costs. Generally, it is a struggle and fund raising is difficult as all club officials understand only too well.
Waterford United is no different when it comes to fund raising with a small band of dedicated volunteers keeping the ship afloat. Children are encouraged to go to the games with ticket offers to schools. Club shops have been selling fan scarves, hats and shirts over the years. A run of success would bring the fans back in droves. Drogheda and Cork have proved that and built up a fan base.
Now that there is a great new stand under construction at the Regional Sports Centre, the potential for the club to grow is even more possible. Many soccer followers spend large sums going to England to games which, in many cases, are very disappointing.
Now that Waterford are in the First Division, they may be competing at a more realistic level for the players at the club’s disposal and be more likely to win games. A stronger performance in the coming season, allied to better facilities, could see fans coming back as last season saw a drop off in attendances.
We would urge soccer fans to support their local club and ensure that a Kilkenny situation does not develop. Waterford has a great tradition in soccer and there were some great cup ties and league games against Kilkenny over the years that were wonderful local derbies. Hopefully we will see the Cats back in senior soccer in the not too distant future and we can have more great tussles.
In the meantime, Fingal have been invited to replace Kilkenny.