On Thursday, the Chairman of Limerick FC, Pat O’Sullivan, posted this message on the clubs official Facebook page and website. I took the time to send a reply later that day, which I felt might be of some interest to some readers:
I write in response to the Chairman Pat O’Sullivan’s message posted on the clubs Facebook page this morning. While I did offer comment on that post, I felt that an e-mail would be a better forum for more useful thought.
First, I would say that I have the highest respect for Mr O’Sullivan and the immense efforts he has made in turning Limerick FC into the club that it is today. His enthusiasm and business acumen is not to be doubted, and must be counted among the major reasons that Limerick FC is even operating today, let alone being a competitive Premier Division club with such far reaching roots in the Limerick community. But, as he requested “feedback” on why people were not attending Limerick FC games in the same numbers that they were last year, I am willing to offer some. I do so with the knowledge that my reasons and feedback are in no way unique or even especially prescient, but having been one of those asked I will answer.
As to why attendances are lower this year than they were last year, one most first look at results. It doesn’t matter what league or on what level, results drive attendances up or down. Limerick’s results see them in 6th place as I write these words, which is commendable, but belies the fact that Limerick have won just four of the 15 games they have played this season.
When taken in concert with the teams fairly disappointing goal return – a goal a game as it stands, on average, and most of them from set-pieces – we can see why some are drifting away. A clubs support will always be split into two distinct sections: the core, who will show up week in and week out, and the more casual sort. The casual fans are attracted to wins, goals and good football. If those things are not present, then they will probably not be either.
Last season saw Limerick back in the top tier for the first time in well over a decade. As such, there was a certain novelty factor in Limerick’s games, added to with the team’s home ground. It was no coincidence that the team’s average attendance last season was far higher than what it had been in Jackman Park in 2012. Success brings numbers. And as proof of the opposite, the three clubs with lower average attendances than Limerick this season – Bray, Athlone and UCD – are all lower in the table.
But now, with Limerick seemingly confirming themselves as a mid-table team for a second season in a row, the novelty has vanished. There is no longer as much curiosity as there was at the start of the 2013 season. People have come to see Limerick, and they have seen a team that seems to be capable of a 7th/6th place finish and no higher, a team that cannot string together a series of positive results against the very top teams. Some will become part of the core and stay. The others will not, more attracted to the possibility of basking in the glow of the EPL’s reflected glory, or that of the GAA, or Munster Rugby or even their local junior side.
If Limerick started winning games, or even putting in the kind of performances in losing that attracted interest, more people will turn up at Thomond Park. It is the difference between losing 3-2 at home to Sligo Rovers, battling all the way, and meekly losing 3-0 to the same opposition in the same stadium. To put out extensive calls for support in the days before such a game, as Manager Stuart Taylor did, and then to lose so badly, was a very poor outcome, and it came as no surprise to me or others to see the attendances continue to drop.
It would be inappropriate to tell Stuart Taylor how to make his team play, just as it would be incorrect to seek a replacement for him at this point in time – he’s doing what is expected of him, or so I would assume given the apparent budget he has to work with. But if the team wins more games, they will get more supporters. That’s a fact.
The other issues are similarly simple. The atmosphere within Thomond is drab and disappointing most of the time. The stadium, even when a few thousand are in it, is not conducive to good atmosphere creation. It’s just too big, and only when Limerick are winning does their seem to be enthusiasm for fans to find their voice – and only then, it seems, at the urging of what I assume to be the “Unofficial” Supporters Club members in the terraces. I am currently based in Kildare due to work commitments, so do not see as many games as I would like. When I do, it is always them making the noise. My matchday experience at Thomond has improved markedly since the security heavy introduction I and many other endured at the start of last season, but is still very underwhelming.
The solving of this problem is similarly simple. Get out of Thomond. The status of the Market’s Field refurbishment seems to be in a bit of a limbo at the moment, or so it looks to fans. But moving there would bring back the novelty value in seeing Limerick play, just as the reduced space would be more conducive to a good atmosphere. I am one of many fans who felt incredibly underwhelmed by the plans revealed by the club a few months ago in regards the Market’s Field, and I engaged in some rather acrimonious online discussions about the same. I have no doubt that some involved in the club are aware of those discussions. But while I felt the plans were a poor basis for the club moving forward, even as they are now they would be a better home for Limerick FC than Thomond Park. I would urge that this project be completed as soon as it is realistically possible, with the appropriate room for expansion in the future if it is deemed to be required. Even Jackman Park, for all its faults, would be a better home for Limerick right now, and it doesn’t even pass the FAI requirements.
Other issues would be more minor, but still worth looking at:
Securing sponsorship – Obvious.
Ticket prices – Fairly reasonable in my experience, but perhaps could be lowered slightly. The recent “3 for 2” deal was a good idea, but might have been more successful if implemented earlier in the season.
Advertising – The club, as with any club in the LOI, could always do with more, even if its online presence is one of the best in the league. In line with the above, schools should be more important targets.
The Dugout – Always good to have it open as a draw, as long as it is financially feasible.
Reinvesting in the team – Obviously the financial focus at the moment is on the Bruff/Market’s Field plans, which will ensure the team has unprecedented bedrock in the years ahead. But, when it becomes possible, I would hope that funds go back into the playing squad. Better players, more goals, more wins, more supporters. I don’t mean to suggest a squad overhaul or a full pelt tilt at the title, but enough for a few more exciting players who can inject life into the team – more Rory Gaffneys over Tam McManuses’ to put it another way.
I have no idea what the current financial situation of the club is. I know that we supporters and the team cannot reasonably expect Pat O’Sullivan to keep paying for everything and I detect a certain pain in his words when he talks about the reduced attendances. I feel that pain, and regret that my own enforced absence is a little part of it. I know he wants the very best for this club and for that and all of his work I and others will be eternally grateful. I know that the administration and the clubs core support will do all they can to keep Limerick alive. If there are difficulties, as one cannot help but infer from the message posted today, I am confident that Limerick FC can overcome them.
There are things that can be improved and steps that can be taken to do that. Some of them will take time. I do not speak for others, but I will endeavour to remain patient and understanding during that time, to praise and critique in the measures appropriate, and to continue offering my support to Limerick FC.