By Kate Rowan
My grandfather lived until he was 86 years of age despite ill health. When asked what his secret to a long life was, his answer was always the same: “Say your prayers and follow Shelbourne”. In a very dark voice he would mutter, “Whatever you do, don’t follow Rovers!”
He of course meant Shamrock Rovers, who until their loss against Sporting Fingal on the 9 October looked like they had a very good chance of regaining the League of Ireland Premier Division title for the first time since 1994. This match was my first foray into an Airtricity League press box.
Growing up, my grandad tried to condition me to develop a deep-rooted hatred for Rovers or The Hoops. Like many who attended League of Ireland matches as a child, I was seduced by the glamour and riches of the game across the Irish Sea and as a teenager abandoned interest in domestic footballing affairs.
Due to my defection I can’t claim a special connection with Shels, so I didn’t feel too conflicted about visiting the Tallaght Stadium.
Throughout my visit to Dublin 24, my prevailing thought was that of family and friendship. There were several newborns kitted out in green and white hoops. On my walk from the Luas to the stadium I happened to meet a workmate of my Dad. When I explained that I had press accreditation to the match, he pointed to gentlemen accompanying him exclaiming, “He’s your very man!”
His son plays for Fingal, wears the number eight jersey: “He’s like lighting, he is! Blink and you’ll miss him, Ronan Finn is his name, remember that.”
Finn certainly played his part with some great runs and quick passes in helping to vanquish Rovers. How likely would you be to bump into Gareth Bale’s family on your way from the tube station to a Tottenham game?
Back in the summer of 2005, with financial difficulties pushing Rovers to the edge of survival, it was the fans who came to the rescue. The formation of what was then called “The 400 Club” has since outgrown its name and is now known simply as “The Members Club”. It is they who own the club.
The situation may seem quite alien to fans of the Premiership, but as longtime Rovers’ Fan and member Shea Carroll explains: “Clubs owned by fans are quite common on the continent, especially in Germany, but the most famous example of all is probably Barcelona.
“You see what is happening now over the ownership of Liverpool that could never happen if the club was fan-owned like Rovers because they wouldn’t let it happen”.
Carroll has been attending Hoops matches since he was 14: “Growing up around Rathmines, it was just the thing to do. It was so close to the ground in Milltown”. He still watches the matches with childhood friends and fellow members Jimmy O’Byrne and Shay McGlynn. Carroll laughs when I ask what perks comes with this membership: “You do it for the love, but seriously, it gets you a vote on important decisions like who should be on the board of directors”.
When I entered the press box, I noticed that one announcer was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a slightly bizarre-looking, cartoon-style masked superhero. Just as kick-off approached, I spotted the same figure patrolling the sidelines, clad head to toe in green and white, with a fetching pair of green underpants over his body suit, accessorised with a billowing cape. Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it’s Hooperman!
At the end of the ninety minutes, the fans and players are despondent. I noticed Rovers striker, the usually talismanic Gary Twigg, sitting on the grass. His hands were cupping his face and, quick as a flash, arrived Hooperman to comfort him.
Such displays of heart and passion is something that this club has in abundance. This is evident, from the dedication of the members and fans, to the cheering and groaning of the announcers.
At the end of the game I spoke to one of the club DJs, Paul O’Connell. He explained how it wouldn’t be right to play a song as fans depart after such a heartbreaking defeat.
The same feeling of dejection was shown by the manager, Michael O’Neill. During the press conference, he seemed genuinely upset, his head bowed down the whole time.
O’Neill confirmed how “angry and frustrated” he was with how his team gave away the lead in such a vital game. When asked if he knew what was happening to the mind set of his players in recent games where they had lost four of their last five league fixtures (including the Fingal game) he replied: “If I knew that I would be working for NASA.”
With just two league games left, Rovers will be hoping that their title rivals, Bohemians, will slip up. As the Fingal manager, Liam Buckley, said to the press after his team’s victory: “It’s a funny old game, you can never tell how things will work out”.
I am sure that is what those faithful to the Hoops will be hoping for in one final twist to the season.
If, like me, you had not been fully engrossed in the Airtricity League, now would be the perfect time to take a trip to Tallaght. Soak up the atmosphere as Rovers and Hooperman fight to rescue their season.