Article: Home thoughts from abroad for Rovers global supporters

By Jim Gray

When Robert Browning wrote his exquisite romantic poem, Home Thoughts from Abroad, yearning for the everyday delights of his homeland, he certainly couldn’t have had football in mind. Yet, his sentiments ring true for exiled supporters of Sligo Rovers, a football club whose global attraction bridges oceans and continents, providing a genuine link not only with its diaspora but with many others encountering the magic of the club for the first time.

Rovers’ army of international supporters continues to grow. For a club based on the periphery of Europe, once regarded as a distant soccer outpost even in its own country, the club’s global appeal is truly remarkable. Some of these ardent followers are Sligo natives whose life paths have taken them to every corner of the world; others are people with no connection to Sligo, or indeed Ireland, who have discovered and been entranced by the irresistible lure of the bit’o’red.

In this article, we feature two of these devoted long-distance supporters – one a native of the town now living and working in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and another from Alabama, USA, who first discovered the club through a FIFA video game and has since crossed the Atlantic on a number of occasions to sate his appetite for the joy of following Rovers.

Argentina-based Eamonn Maye, is a proud member of Rovers international family. He was born and raised in Sligo, literally in the shadow of the Showgrounds.

“My father’s house stood just across the tracks behind the railway end stand. I could see the games from my bedroom, but thankfully didn’t need to as he would take me, along with my brothers, to the games,” Eamonn recalls.

Those early experiences shaped his love of the club, a life-long attachment which has defied both disappointment and distance.

“Right from the start Rovers gave me a sense of community”, he enthuses. “We would meet our cousins and friends on the terrace and spend most of the

game running around playing, with little idea of what was happening on the pitch! This sense of community would only grow over the years, as I made friends through Rovers, found jobs through Rovers, and found accommodation through Rovers. There is almost no aspect of my life that hasn’t been impacted by the club.”

Becoming a dedicated supporter in his own right as he grew older, Eamonn travelled to away games all over the country as well as a couple of European adventures, before leaving Sligo for foreign shores in 2014. He spent several years travelling and living in various countries before settling in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2019.

“My relationship with Rovers is one which has endured the long distance, though at first it was difficult to follow closely from abroad. Time zones did not always allow for following games live, and very little was televised. Mostly I was listening to games on Ocean FM, and getting some more detail afterwards from family or friends who had attended,” he says.

Oddly enough, Eamonn believes the best thing that happened to LOI fans abroad was the Covid pandemic. It brought with it the opportunity to watch every game live, which thankfully has stayed around afterwards.

He gives a special shout-out to the guys from BORST: “Their podcast really brought back that connection to the club that was almost lost over a few years away and is still eagerly anticipated each week. It’s a huge boost for the international fan”.

In Argentina, he reports, the question ‘which is your team’ gets asked at least a couple of times a day: “I always tell them that here, I am a neutral, happy to go along to watch any game but I don’t need another team, I already have Sligo Rovers.”

Generously, Eamonn says to any Rovers fan considering visiting Buenos Aires not to hesitate to get in touch with him.

“I’m always happy to meet up to talk Rovers, give some advice on Argentina or help out with securing tickets to games here,” he confirms.

While Eamonn’s love of the club could be described as an ‘accident of birth’, the case of an American devotee illustrates Rovers’ uncanny knack of getting under the skin even of those who had previously never heard of Sligo.

Forty-two years old, Sean Rourke from the U.S Southeastern state of Alabama, discovered Rovers about nine years ago through playing a FIFA video game.

“From there, I looked into the club and started following and got hooked,” he explains. “Owen Heary was manager at the time when I started supporting. I have been to the Showgrounds four times and have only seen one goal scored other than the penalty shootout against Bala Town but I’ve loved every minute of it. I’m looking forward to getting over again in September for the Dundalk game.”

For long-distance supporters, following the club’s fortunes has become much easier in recent years, as Sean explains.

“When I first started, I was only able to follow the games on the team website or twitter or through the Rovers Hour on Ocean fm. Since then, it has become easier and better. We have the Borst podcast, we can watch the matches on Loi TV, or listen to the full match commentaries on Ocean fm.”, he says.

Sean immediately fell in love with the town on his first visit.

“Even though I had never been there before, it felt like home. The people are great, I have made friends with the Borst guys and socialise with them when I’m over. We have become friends, not just people who support the same team. Also, I have had many interactions with the office staff and everyone has been amazing. I love that the club is owned and run by the supporters. It sets Rovers apart from every other team and makes for more passionate fans,” he insists.

His first trip was in 2018. Since then, he has been over in 2019 for the start of the season and caught two games at the Showgrounds, and the last time he visited was for the Bala Town game.

“I’ve been to two battles of the Rovers, as well as St. Pats, and Bala, and I’ll be over for Dundalk in September this season. I make the trip mainly to see the Rovers play, and work in seeing other parts of Ireland around the fixture.

“I have Irish ancestry but don’t have any family connections that I know about. I would like to think that the O’Rourke Castle remains on Lough Gill were

related to me, being we have the same last name, and maybe that’s why the Sligo area feels so much like home.”

Not surprisingly, Sean agrees that some people might find it strange that he’s so passionate about a football club on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean that few, if any, of his peers have even heard of.

“My family are supportive, although they’re not really into sport. Most people at home wouldn’t be into soccer anyway, much less League of Ireland, so I guess I’m thought of as a bit odd. But I love it and am so delighted to have found this unique club”, he declares.

*We will feature more members of Rovers’ amazing global supporter family in forthcoming editions of the E-programme. Next stops on our world tour are Abu Dhabi and Salt Lake City, Utah.