How many people play soccer in Ireland? This is a question that I have been asked before, and like most questions that appear straightforward, the answer is very hard to know. In fact, it is impossible to be certain given the many ways the sport can be played. Here’s my best shot.
According to Sport Ireland’s Irish Sports Monitor (ISM) Annual Report 2015, 4.8% of those aged 16+ said they played soccer at least once a week. The population of those 16+ is just over 3.5 million so this gives an estimate of around 170,000 players per week.
To break this down further, I considered the overall context in which sport is played. The ISM provides four categories; on own (42.7% in 2015), organised training (31.3%), causally with friends/family (24%) and organised competition (7.7%).
It gets a little tricky here because I doubt anyone replying to soccer said they played “on own”. This leaves us with three categories; (1) organised training, (2) causally with friends/family and (3) organised competition. I assume that (2) refers to astro football, five-a-side, indoor, and other players of the like, while (3) are FAI registered players. Category (1) (training) needed to be spread across both. The ratio of causal to organised play is 3:1. I split (1) this way. This leave a following breakdown of 24.64% formal players and 75.36% informal players.
Based on 170,000 players per week this means there are 128,610 informal players and 42,057 formal players. I would add, this is not 170,000 different people. I suspect almost every registered player also plays informally.
The CSO’s Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS) 2013 figures are more optimistic and suggest 13.2% of those aged 15+ play soccer. Based on population stats, this is 470,000 approx.
The QNHS describes the categories of play as Informal/casual (41.2%), Organised activities (29.7%), Organised competition (28.9%) and Professional/semi-professional (0.2%). If we assume astro, 5-a-side, etc. are Informal/casual and Organised activities, and Organised competition and Professional/semi-professional are registered players, it means 29.1% of players are formally registered, with the remaining 70.96% informal. This isn’t too far off the ISM estimate.
Based on 470,000 players, this means there are 332,757 informal players and 136,576 registered players over 15 years of age. Again, this is not 470,000 different people as I suspect there is large cross-over. These figures are larger than the ISM figures as the latter assumes players are playing on a more regular basis.
I was able to test the accuracy of the 136,576 figure using FIFA’s Big Count Survey from 2006. The report said Ireland had 6,000 clubs. Not all have adults’ teams, and some would have multiple (so this is crude) but the figures would suggest an average of 23 players per club.