Here Shane McDonnell takes a look at the financial state of the League of Ireland currently and suggests what can be done to improve it.
As everyone knows, the financial end of the League of Ireland has been in decline for some time now. In the past ten years, the three most successful teams in the country (Shamrock Rovers, Shelbourne and Bohemians) have come within an inch of ceasing to exist and several have gone out of business completely, for example, Sporting Fingal, Galway United and Kildare County.
Shelbourne have still not bounced back but they are in the promotion/relegation play-off against Galway and if they make it through that test, they will face one of either Athlone Town, UCD or Bray Wanderers. The first step to their recovery has to be gaining promotion to the Premier Division and they can push on from there.
Bohemians are in a relatively secure position; nowhere near relegation, and news of the plan to share Dalymount Park with Shelbourne with both clubs having their debt paid by the FAI can only improve matters at the club. Although they are nowhere near as strong as they were five years ago, they are in a reasonably good league position and had a good run in the cup for a club who only a few years ago, were on the verge of bankruptcy and had it’s future in doubt.
Then there’s the case of Shamrock Rovers. In 2005 the club were relegated and were an inch from being shut down when the fans bought the club. Since then Rovers have found their first permanent home since Milltown, won two league titles and have become the first Irish club to qualify for the group stages of a European competition. Their recent success shows that even faced with adversity, a club can rise from the ashes to become an even bigger force in Irish football.
The most recent reports of financial difficulty come from the Carlisle Grounds. Bray Wanderers are in trouble and have appealed to their fans to come out in force for their remaining home matches. The club is also battling against relelgation but have almost guaranteed survival with their five point lead over 11th placed UCD with just two games left.
The fact that the club have to practically beg for sponsorship and donations from supporters to keep the club afloat is not a good sign of things to come and surely puts a question mark over the future of the club. However, Bray have been there before, as have many teams in the league and will surely have the people behind the scenes capable of steering the club away from crisis and into more positive times.
As usual, the First Division has been rich (if you’ll excuse the pun) with teams struggling for money. Waterford United and Cobh Ramblers, the bottom two teams in the league, have both suffered in recent years. Although Cobh have recently re-entered the league, it will be a long time until they will even be close to challenging for promotion.
Cobh finished bottom of the league, 11 points off 7th placed Waterford who themselves have experienced money problems. The club was forced to let a number of players and staff go throughout the season, and for a club who not too long ago were considered one of the stronger outfits in the First Division, the future looks bleak for the South coast club.
The number of clubs in the two divisions who have gone bankrupt or been on the verge of ruin is appalling. By my count, the number of teams who have been in trouble in the past is twelve. Keep in mind that there are only 20 teams playing league football in Ireland, that’s more than half of all league teams in the country and keeping in mind the amount of clubs who went out of business completely, that figure just keeps on rising.
Dundalk and Cork City’s success this season has been much talked about and both clubs deserve all the plaudits and compliments they have received. Although both clubs are the only two still in the running for the title come the end of the season, it’s not long ago that both clubs were experiencing extreme problems, especially in the case of Cork.
It’s no more than five years since the Cork players almost refused to travel to their match against Shamrock Rovers due to their wages not being payed, but then received the money, travelled to Tallaght and duly went and beat Rovers. Both teams, in the past few years, have gained promotion to the Premier Division and have made enormous strides forward. Another example of how a club, with the right people involved, can come back stronger from the ruins of financial turmoil.
The League of Ireland can never, and will never, be seen as a viable league in European football unless each and every club can sort out whatever money problems they may have. And since there is no indication of another club qualifying for a group stage, whether it be Champions League or Europa League, the signs have never been more obvious that the league must be sorted out, and, in this writer’s opinion, this cannot be done while the league is being run by the FAI.
Little interest is shown in the league by the association, and therfore, an ILFA (Irish League Football Association) must be formed to focus on the problems the league has and resolve those problems. The FAI are doing little to suggest there will be a change in the infrastructure of the league, so a separate association should be formed to handle the running of the league because that certainly isn’t being done at the moment.
The league is on it’s knees and is begging for someone to dig it out of the hole it’s currently in. Clubs with rich history such as Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians, Shelbourne and Derry City, to name just a few, deserve better.
More importantly, the fans who have stayed loyal to the clubs, paying to see their team week in, week out deserve better. Attendances have fallen dramatically from the days where Dalymount Park saw crowds of over 25,000 and now Bohs struggle to get a couple of thousand through the gate most weeks. The league is in deep, deep trouble and it will have to be saved soon or risk never being able to recover.
Shane McDonnell, Pundit Arena