Football without fans.

As I looked out from the press box at the Aviva stadium in Dublin last night on the 44th anniversary of his finest hour in Lisbon I realised the simple wisdom of Jock Stein.

“Football without fans is nothing.”

When he was crafting his European cup winning team he never forgot about the people who would be watching his men in hoops.

Stein’s team were sent out to entertain. He knew it was all about the tens of thousands of fans that flooded into Celtic Park to watch his team.

For whatever reason the FAI have been unable to sell the Carling Cup.

In the stand that houses the press box there was not ONE supporter of either team.

The Scots, about 3000 of them, were behind the Havelock Square end goal.

With their pipes and drums they made a din and were the only source of atmosphere in the otherwise echoing Aviva.

I have partial hearing loss and even I could hear the players shouting throughout the match.

Had the ash cloud prevented these Scottish fans from travelling then this would have been, effectively, a closed doors game in a 51,700 capacity stadium.

When Robbie Earnshaw opened the scoring for Wales it only highlighted how few Welsh supporters were actually in the stadium.

The next match up is tomorrow night between Wales and Northern Ireland.

A journalist from Wales I chatted to at halftime in the media centre said that he would be surprised if there were 500 paying customers at that particular fixture.

When I picked up my press accreditation at a south Dublin hotel the air of depression among the FAI staff was palpable. As ever they were courteous and helpful. They’re committed to what they do and I am convinced that there isn’t anything more that they CAN do. However an eerily empty stadium is difficult to ignore.

To compound matters the Norn Iron fans are carrying out an unofficial boycott of the  competition at the Aviva.

This is their retaliation for the RoI, as they see it, “poaching our players.”

This dispute is put to bed as far as the soccer authorities are concerned.

However the followers of Northern Ireland, like any other paying customer, are perfectly free to withhold their hard earned cash from any form of entertainment.

Scotland ran out comfortable 3-1 winners in the end which means that Sunday’s match between the Republic and Scotland is a genuine cup final.

I hope that the denizens of Dublin turn out and generate a bit of a noise competition with the Tartan Army.

For without the fans the game at the Aviva on Sunday will be, as a canny miner from Burnbank knew, nothing.

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