Sunday 5 July ~
On July 20, a modest ground in the suburbs of Dublin will become the centre of the footballing universe. In the way that UFOs appear only in out-of-the-way areas, the galácticos MKII will touch down in south-west Dublin, when Real Madrid take on Shamrock Rovers in their long-awaited new home, Tallaght Stadium. And the two clubs may as well be from different planets. Real, currently conducting some sort of strange experiment in excess, stand in stark contrast to Rovers, who only four years ago were forced into examinership following decades of financial and administrative blunders sparked by the sale of Glenmalure Park in 1987.
Rovers had just won their fourth consecutive league when the sale was announced. The next season was spent playing in an empty Tolka Park, following a decision to boycott games by supporters’ clubs. And so began a slow decline. Amid the chaos of ever-changing owners, directors, managers and moving from ground to ground, the plan to build a modern stadium in Tallaght finally emerged in 1996. But boardroom wrangling, dodgy bookkeeping and planning objections left the club saddled with a shell of a stadium, unsustainable debt and a points deduction that would see them relegated for the first time. As is often the case, however, the crisis galvanised those who faced the biggest loss – in 2005 a group of supporters calling themselves the 400 Club offered to finance Rovers during the examinership and soon after took over the running of the club.
The re-energised club won promotion back to the top tier immediately and performed well on their return. In the meantime, South Dublin County Council, who had agreed to build the ground for Rovers just prior to the examinership, recommenced work on the stadium. But yet again construction was delayed following an objection by the local Thomas Davis GAA Club, who wanted a place in the now municipal ground. Two years of legal disputes and bitter displays of animosity from supporters of both clubs followed. The case was finally settled last year in Rovers’ favour and in March they played their first game in their new home.
The Hoops have quickly made themselves at home in Tallaght, so far playing in front of sold-out crowds. Granted the ground holds only 3,500 while building is completed but even so this is a large attendance for the League of Ireland, and will be augmented to 10,000 for the arrival of Real Madrid. The presence of Rovers has captured the imagination of the local community and the arrival of the galácticos should only further enhance this. That Ronaldo’s transfer fee equates to roughly ten times the cost of Tallaght Stadium is proof of the two different world the clubs occupy, but as any Hoops fan would confirm, the real value of finally having a home is priceless. Aaron Rogan