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Behind the scenes with Con Murphy

Updated: Tuesday, 10 Aug 2010 17:15

I genuinely felt very sad walking up to the stadium from Ringsend, watching the countless kids, families and adults all decked out in the Manchester United colours.
I genuinely felt very sad walking up to the stadium from Ringsend, watching the countless kids, families and adults all decked out in the Manchester United colours.

It’s been a week of contrasts for me.

From a massive low at the Aviva Stadium last Wednesday when the Airtricity XI took on Manchester United, to the high of the Stadio Alberto Braglia in Modena the following night, when Shamrock Rovers lifted the spirits with a tremendous performance against Juventus in the Europa League.

You might be saying, ‘here he goes banging on about Shamrock Rovers again’ and I suppose you’d be right. But it did my heart good to see so many supporters dipping deep into their pockets to travel to Italy to support a team from Ireland, having witnessed what I can only describe as the fiasco of the previous night at the Aviva, when so many thousands of Irish people turned up to cheer an English team playing against an Irish team in Dublin.

I genuinely felt very sad walking up to the stadium from Ringsend, watching the countless kids, families and adults all decked out in the Manchester United colours. If only even a percentage of that number would come out and support their local team we’d all be in a much better place.

It was a point echoed by my guests on RTÉ Radio that night, Pete Mahon and John Devine. Two great football men, steeped in the game, and both equally frustrated that these football fans, would shun their local teams in favour of supporting a foreign team.

Having said that, Pete did admit that the Red Devils were his team from years ago, when his peers, the likes of Gerry Daly and Mick Martin were playing for them. But they came second to his involvement in the game here at home.

I thought it was telling that the Airtricity selection had the word ‘Ireland’ printed on the back collar of their jerseys and yet we had Irish Manchester United supporters booing them. Not all of them were booing of course, but some of them were.

That’s Irish fans, booing Irish players, in an Irish venue. The mind boggles.

Others like Eamon Sweeney in the Sunday Independent have written far more eloquently than I ever will about this issue, and if you missed Eamon’s article this week, I’d recommend that you look it up online.

There’s no doubting the gulf in class between the United team and the Airtricity League selection. Nobody would argue that point, although in fairness to Damien Richardson, who has received some stinging criticism for his team’s performance, he only had two days to work with his players prior to the match and he was also without the Shamrock Rovers players who would surely have strengthened his squad.

I would defy anyone to get a bunch of players together for the first time, and try to mould them into a cohesive unit in just 48 hours, especially when facing the might of Rooney, Owen, Berbatov and Co.

All in all, I found it a totally dispiriting night. The false atmosphere in the stadium, the 12-inch extended remix of the bloody Mexican wave (always a sign that the match is not holding the crowds interest), the colour red everywhere.

I’ve never been as unhappy at a match in Lansdowne Road and that includes some bad nights for Ireland at the venue down through the years.

Compare the phoney atmosphere at the Aviva to the real atmosphere at Tallaght Stadium on Sunday for the meeting of Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians where both sets of supporters contributed to a super noisy and tense atmosphere in the ground.

Or the atmosphere in Modena, where 900 drenched Rovers supporters did a great impression of Gene Kelly, by singing in the rain and making lots of noise, something that didn’t go unnoticed by the Italians around me in the stadium who were quick to praise the Hoops fans for the great support they gave the team.

I’m sure Manchester United fans will say ‘get over yourself’ as they’re perfectly entitled to do, but in their heart of hearts, I hope they think deeply about what supporting a football team is all about.

What is it?

Why do we follow one team over another? Why does somebody in China, Canada, or Cabra don the red jersey of Manchester United?

Surely it should be about a sense of community. A feeling of pride about the group of players who take the field to represent your town, city, area, whatever.

That's why I've seen grown men shed tears when their team has won a trophy, or been promoted, or been relegated. Really.

Why should somebody in Cork care if Alex Ferguson’s multi-millionaires add another league trophy to the cabinet? Why not support Northampton if you are going to pick a random English team to follow?

Is it all about the success and glory that ensues when one supports Man U?

If so, what is the need in people that they feel they have to follow a successful team to get their kicks?

I know I'm probably drifting into psychoanalysis that is above my understanding, but I also know for sure that I'd rather see someone from Cork support Cork City first, and if they want the thrill of following Man United second, well and good.

By the way, some of my best friends and workmates follow English teams, much to my chagrin, and my sister is a season ticket holder at Arsenal, but in her case she lives in Highbury, so I'll forgive her that one!

We had a good debate in studio this week about the merits or otherwise of the Airtricity Man United friendly, and as Roddy said, it was more of a money making exercise for the FAI than anything else, and there's no crime in the FAI putting on a match to raise much needed funds.

But there was disagreement between Dave Barry and Tony McDonnell about whether the game was damaging to the reputation of the game here in the long run.

Feel free to email us mns@rte.ie or sign up to our Facebook page – Monday Night Soccer will find us – and give us your views on the topic. Although we don't have a chance to reply to every email and Facebook comment, they are all read and points are always taken on board by the programme staff.

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