Just Follow The Floodlights

Over the next little while, I’m going to be posting up a few of the articles that I have previously written for the website Lovely Left Foot, which is currently undergoing a hiatus of sorts. They may eventually be hosted on LLF again someday, but for now I felt that they were good enough examples of my writing that they should be up somewhere.

The original publication date for this piece was March 30th 2012.

Just Follow The Floodlights

Just Follow The Floodlights, by Brian Kennedy, LOI follower and Waterford born football writer, is a complete guide to the clubs of the current League of Ireland (and a few extra) detailing their histories, achievements, culture and traditions. Kennedy documented the LOI’s inhabitants on a 21 stadium trip around Ireland over the last few years, and JFTF is the result.

JFTF’s main positive is the comprehensive nature of its approach, giving every club time and space with which to discuss most aspects of their existence. In some cases, like those of Shamrock Rovers and Shelbourne, the material goes back a century or more, while for others, like Mervue, Wexford and Monaghan, the treasure trove is significantly smaller. Regardless, Kennedy gives a very good go of equal representation, even if he is forced to spend more time discussing singular events with the shorter lived clubs. Kennedy creates a very personalised, interesting narrative, one written by a hardcore fan of the game, but not so hardcore that his writings will be inaccessible to those, like myself, who are relatively new to the world of Irish club football. Too many books of this type read as if the author has simply copy/pasted sections from Wikipedia (a concurrent publication, on the history of the FAI Cup, reeks of this). JFTF cannot be included in that category at least. Kennedy see’s the clubs and their people first hand (every entry concludes with a run down on the clubs stadia and organisation from the first hand perspective he gained on his travels) and writes accordingly.

JFTF is full of interesting stories and recollections, as Kennedy has amassed an impressive number of first hand interviews with club personnel past and present. Kennedy is good at bringing big moments in club histories to life, at making the reader recognise their importance, the emotions of the moment. Among those include Monaghan’s heartbreaking promotion play-off loss in 2010, Longford Town’s sensational run of cup victories in the last decade, Cork City’s seemingly never ending battles with extinction, Athlone Town’s near win over AC Milan in 1975 (when current Irish manager Giovanni Trappatoni was a coach as the Italian club), Limerick coming within 20 minutes of beating Real Madrid in 1980, Shamrock Rover’s six-in-a-row,  the sectarian divide that forced Derry to cross the border in terms of football leagues, Boh’s back-to-back title triumphs followed by their financial fall, the Wexford Youth team that got to a League Cup final with a squad of teenagers and many, many more. Through the liberal sprinkling of quotes from the figures involved to the scouring of old match records and programs, the author creates a narrative that is both engaging on a personal level and interesting on a factual one.

Kennedy also, thankfully, avoids an all too common pitfall in LOI literature and fandom, that of taking time to criticise and blast the effect that English soccer has had on the Irish league, as well as other Irish sports like Gaelic Games. Such a sentiment is all too common to see across the League of Ireland, and is not helpful towards making that league more accessible. Kennedy mentions the problem certainly, but takes no blatantly antagonistic side on the matter.

There is plenty to criticise though. JFTF gets repetitive fast, with the sections not devoted to individual moments often little more than a recounting of league performances and cup successes (or failures). It is perhaps worse for the entries of clubs like Shamrock Rovers, which by the authors own admission, largely amounts to little more than a list of successes in various competitions.

The author also fills his book with odd intermissions and inserts. The rainy weather of the country is constantly being dropped into segments, along with references to historical events outside the purview of the books subject. Such writing is an attempt to place what the author is discussing in an historical context, but some are repeated over and over to an unnecessary degree. The reader will probably know that Ireland was independent after 1922 or that the last Fianna Fail government was unpopular. There is no need to keep repeating these points. This very personal way of writing, as if the author is someone you are talking to in a pub, may not appeal to everyone’s taste.

Such inserts reach a bizarre level during the entry of Drogheda United where the author, twice on one page in separate sentences, criticises Bulgaria for siding with Germany in both World Wars (I am not making that up), which had literally nothing to do with the topic at hand. Such writing betrays a lack of confidence from the author that the primary subject matter is interesting enough to maintain the reader’s attention (or that he has a serious grudge against, his words, “the sneaky Bulgarians”)

The author is also, to an extent, overly positive about every club, refraining from direct criticism of methods or managers throughout the years. This also extends to the FAI and other ruling bodies, whom Kennedy largely ignores, only stating the reality of various licensing issues and league reorganisations without adding any of his own commentary. A missed opportunity? Perhaps. In that regard, JFTF lacks a certain bite.

JFTF is also, inevitably, somewhat depressing in large parts, though I can hardly call that a criticism, just reality. Just about every entry on the topic of Irish clubs competing in European competition is heartbreaking to the extreme, as every other side has a claim to “almost” beating or scoring against a much bigger side one moment (Athlone over AC Milan being the primary example) only to get hammered in a second leg. In fact, a constant trend is for Irish clubs to play well for 90 minutes in Europe, only to get creamed in the other game. Such moments provide a litany of “might have beens” for JFTF, and accounts from interviewees who seem to be filled with regret over one missed kick, one dodgy ref decision, when it comes to involvement in Europe.

The other side of the depression comes from the endless accounts of club financial troubles, as just about every entry records at least one name change or brush with total extinction. These only increase as time goes on and at least ten of the 21 clubs documented have had severe economic difficulties in the past five years, while the final pages are dedicated to those clubs that have bowed out of the league over the course of its history for these reasons, a notable number of them – Cobh Ramblers, Kilkenny City, Sporting Fingal, Home Farm/Dublin City, Kildare County, St Francis – in the not too distant past (On somewhat of a related note, he does not deem the takeover of Limerick FC by  a millionaire in 2009 as worth noting, an odd exclusion).

Kennedy offers no real commentary on the causes of this problem or possible solutions, which is fair enough. The book isn’t about that, but it does outline the frequently delicate state of Irish football clubs. Case in point, the author rounds off his entry on Galway United in an optimistic tone over its financial state – the club went under and left the league shortly after publication. Similarly, the author praises Mick Wallace, the founder and financial patron of Wexford Youths for his generosity when it came to building the club from the ground up, too late for that individual’s much publicised brushes with bankruptcy over the last while.

JFTF may also suffer by having little appeal outside of Ireland. It is a book by an Irish fan for Irish fans, full of reminisces and memories that may well only resonate deeply for those more connected to the Irish system then those outside it. Foreign readers would definitely gain great knowledge of Irish football from reading, but appreciation is a different story.

The positives outweigh the negatives however. JFTF is a good read, one that every fan of the League of Ireland would treasure, even if it occasionally raises eyebrows with its choice of non-football inserts or leaves you weeping when discussing Ireland in Europe. In a time when the League of Ireland struggles for attention, such an account is a welcome addition to bookstands across the country.

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