At the point where ‘old world football’ and ‘new world football’ collide, we found League of Ireland club Derry City last week, its chairman Philip O’Doherty apparently struggling somewhat with the transition.
Derry fans largely skipped their Europa League qualifying match with Dinamo Minsk, and there was a suggestion in the air that a £10 price hike may have significantly influenced their plans for the evening.
In an ironic parallel to their protest, the club’s chairman wasn’t buying it.
“I’m disappointed that the boycott obviously worked because we only had 1,400 people in this ground tonight. We were allowed 3,700 in the ground but obviously the request last week for people to attend the game has fallen on deaf ears and there was nowhere near enough for a European game at the Brandywell.
“The atmosphere was very, very flat and it didn’t help the players at all. Can I just thank those people who did turn up and show support and loyalty to the club. It was £25 a game six or seven years ago. I don’t think that’s the reason and I don’t really know what point they were trying to make. It was total stupidity.”
If the term ‘Ratner Moment’ isn’t already in use in Northern Ireland, ‘O’Doherty Moment’ may soon take up the slack.
Here’s where your dismissive treatment of the club’s followers breaks down, Mr Chairman. Whether a small cog or not, your club is part of modern professional football, whose love affair with hard-nosed commerce is more entrenched than it’s ever been. But that has consequences.
If football’s a business, where romance and social empathy take second place to financial imperatives, then it can have no complaints when supporters start acting like customers, their patronage no longer just a matter of tribalism, but a question of whether product and pricing point are able to win them over.
You can’t turn sentiment on and off like a tap, pricing fans out of a game and then indirectly questioning their loyalty when they stay away. It’s months since I visited Asda but even if they knew, I doubt anyone in their boardroom would dream of insulting me for it. That’s not how proper businesses work.
And while life seems to have been good to you and you to Derry, I would respectfully ask, who are you to judge what your supporters can and can’t afford? So they were stumping up those prices six or seven years ago? I’m no expert on Northern Ireland’s economy but many jobs can be lost in six or seven years; many household budgets drastically revised.
For all this, I’m sure O’Doherty will survive this gaffe. Football fans are notorious for doing everything to improve their lot except the one thing that would really concentrate boardroom minds: a long-term boycott.
No, they’ll return, and so their chairman will be spared a period of suppressed revenues and quiet reflection as to where the “total stupidity” at Derry FC actually arose.