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Opinion: LOI Clubs Need To Back St. Patrick’s Athletic If They Want Change

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“United We Stand, Divided We Fall” was the famous slogan of a United States World War II propaganda poster that rallied the American public after the horrific 1942 Japanese attacks on US naval base Pearl Harbor.

A total of 2,403 Americans died during the Pearl Harbor bombings and in the aftermath of the harrowing assault, the US embarked on the biggest military recruitment drive their country had ever seen.

So what does Pearl Harbor have to do with St. Patrick’s Athletic? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Except for the six words plastered across the face of that famous poster – United We Stand, Divided We Fall.

The Saints find themselves in a precarious position with the FAI where the club are going toe-to-toe with the Association over a lack of funding in the League Of Ireland. St. Pat’s are by no means the first club to criticise Ireland’s governing football body and they won’t be the last, but they are going out on a limb to try and incite change.

EA Sports Cup Semi-Final, Tallaght Stadium, Dublin 8/8/2016 Shamrock Rovers vs St Patrick's Athletic St Patrick's Christy Fagan celebrates scoring their third goal of the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

The Garrett Kelleher-owned club have decided to publicly challenge the FAI over the Association’s €5,000 strategic investment, and when the club decided to reject the FAI’s offer, they didn’t just say “thanks, but no thanks”, they gave the FAI one of the most brutally honest and scathing appraisals in Irish sporting history.

In a statement on the club’s website, the St. Patrick’s Athletic board said:

“The board of SPAFC wants its decision to serve as a clear message to the FAI that it has utterly failed in its responsibility to the domestic game and to those clubs who, in spite of its indifference, have managed to keep some semblance of professionalism within football in Ireland.

“The board is of the view that the Association’s move and its timing was deliberately aimed at encouraging non Premier League clubs to stand with the current administrators of our league as the PCA set about its agenda of change. That it would do so in a week when Cork City FC and particularly Dundalk FC performed on the European stage at a level and with a verve that belies the manner in which they and the other clubs have been treated, is particularly disappointing.

“The board of SPAFC is committed to the establishment of a strong PCA which must be focused on rooting out the culture of disinterest that has prevailed throughout the FAI’s management of our League for too many years. Offering the proverbial “crumbs from the rich man’s table” will not shift the resolve of those clubs and those individuals determined to create a properly funded and professionally managed league in Ireland.”

St. Patrick's Athletic Press Conference, Richmond Park, Dublin 27/6/2016 Ger O'Brien and Conan Byrne Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Tracy

The board’s statement prompted an extended response from FAI Director of Communications Ian Mallon, who criticised the Dublin club for changing their stance after initially agreeing to the proposal.

The FAI singled out St. Pat’s commercial manager, Frank Kinsella, for his approval of the plan and said they found it “astonishing” that “St Patrick‘s Athletic were one of the clubs who agreed to the process in the first place”.

The Association also stated that “a host of leading clubs, including Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Cork City, Bohemian FC and Galway United supported the plan” and that the “FAI fully expects St Patrick‘s Athletic to re-engage with the agreed process, and to remain in a united partnership with its fellow clubs”.

In other words, be grateful for what we give you and get back in line. It was also a strong statement from an organisation that has had three consecutive AGMs with zero questions from its 125 delegates.

SSE Airtricity League Premier Division, Brandywell Stadium, Derry 9/10/2015 Derry City vs Bray Wanderers Derry's Mark Timlin is congratulated after scoring Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Presseye/Lorcan Doherty

As Independent TD Tom Fleming told the Irish Times last year “a lot of people in the FAI are afraid to talk, afraid their clubs will be punished financially.

“There is a fear element within the soccer community. If the AGMs are run in the way that no questions are asked… people who are keeping the game going are left out from having a say.”

So far two clubs, Derry City and St. Patrick’s Athletic, are the only ones to challenge the FAI over their strategic plan. The €100,000 investment by the FAI, which works out at €5,000 per club and equates to roughly €20 a week, is only a first step according to the Association.

FAI Director of Competitions Fran Gavin, speaking on RTÉ’s Soccer Republic programme, has confirmed that there will be a number of further foll0w-up actions to be taken. He said: “This is the first step in a process we are going through with the clubs. We’ve been in talks with the clubs for the past seven months.

“They have been very productive, and we are talking about other areas of the game as well. This is about putting the clubs in a position to compile strategic business plans and when the clubs put these plans together, myself, John Delaney and Eamon Naughton will sit down with each of those clubs and look at how we can bring those plans to fruition.”

INPHO/Donall Farmer

A spokesperson from St. Patrick’s Athletic told Pundit Arena that “there was no further information given to the club by the FAI, regarding the nature of the strategic plan, other than the FAI’s initial €5,000 investment”. A spokesperson from Bohemians FC also confirmed that their club had been given no added information regarding the nature or timeline of the strategic plan.

The Board of the FAI, however, did state that “in the coming week, the FAI would write to each club outlining the process to date and the next steps forward for the future development of Irish domestic football”.

The FAI’s announcement of a strategic plan could not have come at a worse time for the Association as the initiative was announced in the same week it was revealed that the Association earned €11 million from their Euro 2016 exploits. The announcement also coincided with Dundalk’s progression to the Champions League play-off, which guarantees the Louth club at least €5.4 million in prize money.

From a PR perspective, it has been a nightmare for the FAI who should be basking in the glory of a rather successful Euro 2016 campaign coupled with having the first Irish club reach the last round of Champions League qualification, but instead they have engaged in a public war of words with one of the country’s leading clubs.

The League of Ireland, the FAI’s “problem child” according to CEO John Delaney, is raising a number of problems for the Association, issues that the Association has no real answers for.

FAI AGM, Minella Hotel, Tipperary 30/7/2016 FAI Chief Executive John Delaney Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Poor facilities, unsustainable clubs, issues over player wages, lack of marketability and a lack of financial transparency are all issues the clubs have raised with the Association and for two clubs in particular, St. Pats and Derry, €5,000 is simply not an acceptable amount to try and resolve these issues, or even worse, make them go away.

But, as with any dispute involving conditions, it will take more than 10% of a workforce, in this case the league, to incite change.

The FAI’s statement in response to St. Pat’s refusal of the €5,000 payment clearly indicates that the Association has no intention of altering the terms of their original €100,000 investment. The FAI expects St. Patrick’s Athletic and Derry City to comply with the terms of the agreed deal between the FAI and the Premier Clubs Association (PCA) as the FAI looks to take “the next steps forward for the future development of Irish domestic football”.

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Derry City and St. Pat’s refusal of the FAI’s investment is a significant sign that two of the country’s top clubs have had enough with how the league has been run. The two clubs are publicly challenging an association that has notoriously gone unchallenged at its own AGMs, never mind publicly by its own clubs.

Derry and St. Pat’s are bucking the trend, they are making a stand but if they don’t receive backing from their fellow League Of Ireland clubs, they will inevitably be viewed as outcasts as opposed to revolutionaries.

The issues the two clubs have raised are legitimate and real, but unless the entirety of Ireland’s professional clubs remain united, then their quest for change will inevitably fall, and for some clubs, Derry and Pat’s in particular, their fall could be much harder than others.

Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team. If you would like to join the team, drop us an email at write@punditarena.com.