Tuesday night’s match against Shelbourne represented the first real obstacle in my attempts to connect with Waterford United. When living in Liverpool, going to night time matches was a chore. You’d get home, have maybe an hour to wolf down your dinner and perform the multitude of daily tasks that have accrued to any 21st century home owning man – sometimes you’d even have to do the food prep yourself, Goddammit! – before engaging in a madcap charge up to the ground a good ninety minutes before kickoff so you could be sure of getting a decent parking space. Getting away was an exercise in torment as 44,000 people tried to squeeze through the bottlenecks around Anfield. It was always enjoyable when you were in the ground, but there were many times when but for having already laid down £35 for a ticket I’d have stayed at home and played Pro Evolution Soccer.
So forgive me Father for I have sinned – the relief that flooded through me when the match was called off was dangerously close to a mortal one. Admittedly parking and quick getaways are not a problem at the RSC but finishing work at half five, getting back to Tramore, eating without chewing then getting back to Waterford leaves about, ooh, half an hour for me time. How diehards not only do this but actually seem to revel in it . . . perhaps I’m getting old.
It makes you grateful for the more intense nature of the hurling championship, where even the nature of local rivalries means even a devalued-by-the-back-door Munster championship retains its charge. Bundling all the excitement into a few matches allows you to get a ferocious hit and time to enjoy the more tranquil pace of real life. League soccer is often called a marathon, not a sprint. At times it feels more like thirty-something marathons.
Then to put the tin hat on proceedings, I only noticed the Monaghan match was on last night five minutes before kick-off. Like the Blues, I must try harder.
In chez deiseach, marital bliss is all about compromise. When it comes to English newspapers, I prefer the Guardian and Mrs d prefers the Times. So when we buy an English newspaper, in the spirit of the aforementioned compromise, we buy the Times.
I kid, I kid because I love. In truth the Times is a perfectly decent rag, and one of the best things in it is Daniel Finkelstein’s Fink Tank, an attempt to predict outcomes by the ruthless application of statistics. Finkelstein came to mind when reading extratime.ie’s preview of the First Division run-in.
How so? A while back, Finkelstein observed that the English Football League Championship (the old First Division) is ridiculously hard to predict because of the massive amount of variables involved. Who would have seen at the start of the season the likes of Reading and Ipswich Town languishing at the bottom of the table? Who would have predicted in recent years the likes of Stoke City and Hull City bigging it up at the top, to the point where they could eventually escape the division’s clutches? It is for this reason that Finkelstein felt that the rebranding of the competition as ‘The Championship’ was not ridiculed by all and sundry. The Championship was a serious Competition, unlike the bloatfest that was the English Premier League where only stupendous amounts of Arab money could hope to crack the oligopoly of the Big Four.
With that in mind, observe the preposterously exciting end to the 2009 League of Ireland First Division. Shelbourne, UCD, Sporting Fingal and the Blues are left. One team will win the title. One will be promoted. One will enter the playoff. And one will get nothing. The prizes on offer cover the full range of emotions. It would almost make you care about the eventual outcome.
Update: the promotion opportunities are not as generous as I first thought, with only the champions being automatically promoted. Second and third will play for the right to play the losers of the match between the teams that finished eight and ninth in the Premier Division. The principle remains the same though – there are benefits to finishing second as you get home advantage in the playoff. And winning the title becomes ever more important.