Andy Watters: Sport should be enjoyed, not endured. Let's go Dutch

Andy Watters

Andy Watters

Andy is a sports reporter at The Irish News. His particular areas of expertise are Gaelic Football and professional boxing but he has an affinity for many other sports. Andy has been nominated three times for the Society of Editors Sports Journalist of the Year award and was commended for his inventiveness as a sub-editor in the IPR awards.

Agony and ecstasy. The trip to Clones was worth it for Armagh supporters
Agony and ecstasy. The trip to Clones was worth it for Armagh supporters Agony and ecstasy. The trip to Clones was worth it for Armagh supporters

IT should be enjoyed, not endured but watching sport here still revolves around traffic jams, parking, back roads and umbrellas.

How long before somebody does something about it?

Before we get to see a ball kicked for our hard-earned cash we, the paying public, have to deal with getting to the general area, getting at least half-safely parked, a trek to the ground and then the elements.

Nobody expects to be lifted by helicopter and dropped into a pitch-side armchair – the journey is always part and parcel of the experience - but we deserve better.

Any casual supporter who brought the family along to the Armagh-Down game at Clones last year would think long and hard before they’d book tickets for the same game next year.

You expect to have to rough it to a certain extent and the stewards, as always, do their best but every road was jammed and, after walking a couple of miles, the best you could hope for was to sit on your sodden programme and huddle under the family brolly.

It was a miserable experience and I wonder what has been done - what is being done right now - to make it better if Armagh and Down meet in the Ulster Championship again next year?

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It’s not a lot better at Croke Park either. Last year the tailbacks stretched for miles out of Dublin when Tyrone, Monaghan and Armagh played in an All-Ireland quarter-final double-header on the same day!

Again, I wonder what has been done - what lessons have been learned - to make the experience better if exactly the same thing happens next year?

It’s the same old thing – getting anywhere near the ground is a lottery and you could argue that the parking situation at Croke Park is worse because there’s always the risk that your motor will be clamped and towed away by some vulture if you leave it in the wrong spot.

Since Clonliffe College closed (and it sat dormant last year when surely it could have been utilised) there really is no organised parking around Croke Park apart from the couple of hundred who get a car park space at the ground.

So for everybody else it’s a free-for-all around the back streets, where you risk the wrath of some angry resident, or you park on the side of the road and you scan the area carefully before reluctantly leaving your motor. It’s always a relief when you return after the match and it’s still there, unclamped and you can get away on home.  

How much revenue does the GAA bring into Dublin ever year? It’s long past time that a Luas Link was developed at the stadium. The closest one at the minute is at Connolly Stadium which is a 15-minute walk away.

It’s not just GAA I’m on about. A friend of mine went to watch the Ulster rugby match against the Lions in Belfast last Friday night. There are no dedicated public transport links to Ravenhill, so for the punters to get there they’ve got to hike it out to the ground.

After watching the game my friend couldn’t get a taxi so he was left with an hour’s walk in the pouring rain to get the last train home. He arrived soaked and fed up but unfortunately he had missed it.

Last weekend I saw proof that it doesn’t have to be like this. There is another way.

If your country is going to get beaten and out-played in a football match, there are worse places to watch it happen than in Amsterdam.

The good-natured banter with the Dutch fans, the welcoming hostelries, the steady supply of quality beer… Throw in the two other things ‘the ‘Dam’ is famous for – canals and bicycles* – and it’s a place that’s well worth a visit.

Amsterdam is not just about canals and bicycles...
Amsterdam is not just about canals and bicycles... Amsterdam is not just about canals and bicycles...

In terms of how they look after their sports fans, the Dutch are light years ahead of us.

It rained all day on the Saturday and at around 3pm (the game didn’t kick-off until quarter to nine) I was steeling myself for a repeat of Armagh-Down at Clones.

I needn’t have worried.

The first thing is that the public transport links from the city are excellent and affordable. Train, tram, bus, subway… Take your pick, relax and they’ll get you out there to the purpose-built station at the ground and then it’s a short walk.

No worries about getting there but it was still raining.

Well, the roof of the Johann Cruyff stadium was shut so it was warm and dry in the arena. So there was me, sitting in comfort watching the game.

The one negative was that for some necessary reason the Dutch police decided to crank up the security on the Republic fans. They were searched, stopped and delayed and missed the start of what was a battling performance in Stephen Kenny’s penultimate game in charge.

After the game all the public transport links were still running to get you back to wherever you needed to be. I was staying a good distance out of the city but I was there in plenty of time for a post-match post mortem.

So, all-in-all, you’d have to say it was an experience that would encourage you to go back and you’d bring the kids and maybe even grandparents next time.

Sport should be enjoyed, not endured and we’re way behind. We deserve better.

* Also, little mice with clogs on, windmills, tulips and cheese.