In order to maintain this growth, facilities are needed and the formation of the John Giles Foundation aims to provide some much-needed funds in this area.
“We formed a foundation and I have lent my name to it and it’s backed by the FAI. The ‘walk of dreams’ is the first event we are going to have. The idea is to harness the energy which is out there for the game. There is loads and loads of energy there. The idea of the walk is to unite the soccer community throughout the country and to show people that there are quite a lot of us in the soccer community. We are going to try and raise money but this is not the main thing. We want to get the schoolboys, their parents and friends, out to walk on the day. Schoolboy clubs will raise sponsorship and will keep half of what is raised. Half will go to the foundation which, in turn, will put it back into the grassroots,” explained one of this country’s greatest ever international players.
The current economic climate is one of the reasons behind this walk. “The economic situation is affecting everybody. It’s going back to the old days whereby the communities can help themselves. What we are trying to do is community-driven anyway as whatever resources we get go back into the community. The walk of dreams is our first venture and it is something that is needed today.”
“When I played first, the youngest you could play at was 14. Nowadays, there are competitions for all age groups from U-7, which is great for the kids. When I was playing, we had no television and it was out on the streets all the time. It’s not safe to do that anymore so we need the facilities,” Giles added.
“The game is now very popular and we have been to many counties. The game has grown way beyond what I thought it would. The fact that so many are now playing the game in this country has never been really recognised and the walk of dreams is to make everybody aware of the soccer community in the country and the numbers that are there. There has always been politics, as there is in most organisations and we want to get rid of that and work together. If you work together, obviously, you will get more done.
“Television has played a huge part in making this game so popular. Everybody in every part of the country can see matches they want to see. The premiership has become very popular and there is football on the telly an awful lot,” he said.
“1990 was a huge year for soccer in this country. We qualified for the World Cup for the first time and the whole country watched it. It was on the international stage and everybody knew that the team was representing the country. Thousands and thousands of Irish people travelled to Italy for the games. That was a watershed for soccer in these areas.”
While stressing that he would always be sympathetic towards players, he believes it’s gone a bit too far now as far as wages are concerned. “I played when players put in lots of years of loyalty to clubs and the clubs weren’t very generous to them. There was no affection and no respect for the players and I would always be on the players’ side but nowadays, it has gone too far with regards to wages being paid. Having said that, nobody is putting the gun to club’s heads to pay this money. They can always say no. They are at fault as well. With the freedom of contract and the money the players are getting, it has gone too far towards the players.”
He was keen to point out that there are a lot of good players out there. “You hear all the bad things about players. There are lots of good lads out there who give it everything despite people saying that they are only doing it for the money. There are a lot of players who want to do well in the game.”
While he acknowledged that many schoolboy players may be influenced by the money, he believes the good lads, whether it be today or in the past, didn’t play for the money. “From my own point of view, I never thought about the money and it was the same for the likes of Nobby Stiles and Bobby Charlton. We all came from working-class backgrounds. I wanted to go to England and play in the big matches and at the big grounds. That was the dream. I have never seen a sportsman yet, particularly in football, that really made it driven by money. They were driven by the glory and to emulate their heroes. When I was a kid, Jackie Carey was a great Irish player. I saw him play at Dalymount Park and I wanted to emulate him,” he explained.
The former Leeds United star said he doesn’t envy the lads getting the money today. “I had a great time doing what I did. The really good lads today aren’t driven by money. They want to play well. Look at the Irish team – Doyle from Wexford, Long from Tipperary, and the lads from Waterford. The game is spread all over the country. The money that the likes of Richard Dunne, Robbie Keane and Damian Duff get for playing for their country is buttons and I have never seen them give anything but their best when they played.”
The higher standard is in England and it is only natural that it’s where all young players want to go, he noted when asked if the League of Ireland could do more to attract stronger players to play in this country. “When I was a kid, my father was manager of Drumcondra and I went around the country with him but the fact is that I wanted to go to England to play. It’s only natural for kids to say that they want to play where the higher standard is and, unfortunately, it’s not in the League of Ireland. There are a lot of good people in the League of Ireland doing their best to promote the game but it’s difficult given the strength of the premiership,” he said.
“The FAI have, since my days, come on in leaps and bounds. It was a joke in my days. There is an awful lot of great work being done in the last five or six years. Look at the facilities around the country. They were never there before and the idea of the new foundation is to even improve on those. You cannot have enough facilities for the kids and you need the resources to do that. The FAI have done a lot,” said John.
He is reasonably optimistic about the prospects for the Republic of Ireland side in the coming years. “We have some good young players coming along. Long has come on in leaps and bounds and is a very good player. We have Coleman and one or two others plus the likes of Doyle and the Hunt brothers. We must remember that in the last World Cup qualifiers, we were unbeaten. We were very unlucky in Paris but I am confident that we can do well,” he concluded before going on to present medals to the up-and-coming soccer players of Clare.
On this week’s podcast: Former inter-county referee Rory Hickey joins Derrick Lynch & Peter O’Connell …