Clubs self interests come to the fore once more during Delaney scandal
Article by Kieran Burke - @KieranBTS
It’s been a fortnight of front page headlines, government hearings and fan protests of the likes Irish football has never seen, as John Delaney and the FAI board continue to swim against a rip-roaring tide of public pressure in wake of the latest in a long line of governance scandals to rock the Football Association of Ireland.
Of course, criticism of the association is nothing new, League of Ireland supporters in the main have been calling for action against the former CEO for the best part of fifteen-years, while the more vocal sections of Irish supporters had been building towards last months high profile tennis ball protest ever since the Glasgow ticket saga back in 2014. In recent days, we’ve even seen quarters that have often been accused of being pro-Delaney, such as the Leinster Senior League, lobbying its members for a confidence vote on the current head honchos at the FAI.
On top of all that, we’ve seen unprecedented levels of pressure placed on the governing body for Irish football from the mainstream media and political figures and bodies, resulting in Sport Ireland’s decision to suspend all capital funding for the FAI, the real key turning point in this entire episode to date in truth.
In one of the more eye-catching and perhaps damning public statements released in recent weeks, the PFAI, the body which represents League of Ireland players, have also come out on the offensive. However, the one group that should be making the most noise in all of this fiasco remains not just silent but totally disjointed in its response to the mismanagement of the beautiful game in Ireland and that is the twenty League of Ireland clubs. In fact, the only statements released via official club channels during the past fortnight were messages of support for the FAI and its Executive Vice President from the chairmen of Waterford FC and Limerick FC to the utter disgust of followers of the national league.
Since the FAI took control of the domestic leagues in Ireland back in 2007, a number of League of Ireland clubs have gone to the wall, including Monaghan United, Sporting Fingal and Kildare County, while even the current powerhouses of Dundalk FC, Cork City and Derry City to name just a few have faced major financial issues. In fact, just last season both Bray Wanderers and quite ironically, Limerick FC faced into spells of the season where they were unable to pay player wages, almost forcing strike action in each case.
At both the Oireachtas hearing last Wednesday and in the national press over recent days, reports have emerged of Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers and Bray Wanderers facing difficulties and delays when requesting draw downs on prize money and UEFA money held by the FAI, while just this afternoon it has been revealed that the Premier Clubs Alliance has informed the FAI its members are to consider alternative options to staying under the FAI umbrella post 2020. Given the PCA is still unable, after four-years in operation, to discover the details of the FAI’s sponsorship deal with Airtricity or the associations TV rights agreement with RTE or any of the FAI’s commercial agreements in relation to the national league, it is quite obvious that the twenty League of Ireland clubs are being taken for a bit of a ride by the governing body.
With that in mind, bar St.Patrick’s Athletic and Derry City, who both came out publicly against the associations “long-term strategic plan” grant of €5,000 per club a couple of seasons ago, the inability for what is a relatively small league to come together as one and publicly address the on-going saga at governance level speaks to the wink and nod culture that has torn the league apart for the best part of three decades. What hope does the League of Ireland ever have of securing transparency in terms of sponsorship, TV and commercial deals if the clubs themselves can not come together to formulate a coherent response to a matter that the rest of the nation is having its say on at this moment in time.
For when this entire soap opera is said and done, no matter what the outcome may be, it is the League of Ireland clubs that will have to live with and work with the next regime and that is exactly why the twenty most senior clubs in this country should be taking a stand right now to not only help determine but shape the future of Irish football for the betterment of everyone involved.