An argument I’ve heard over the last year or so is one that I find very interesting regarding the future of the league of Ireland.
It is an argument that is sure to cause a divide between the clubs in the League of Ireland and the FAI. And it is this: should the league of Ireland clubs break away from the FAI?
I originally heard this point being made on Newstalk’s League of Ireland segment on Off The Ball and found it was an interesting area to explore with a few very valid points to be made in favour of this argument.
The first and most obvious point to make is that the FAI does very little, if anything, to improve and develop the League of Ireland, which should be very high on their list of priorities. There are very few football associations around who do virtually nothing to try and improve domestic league football but we’re unfortunate enough to have one of them in Ireland.
Now, I’m not forgetting that the FAI has set up the U15 and U17 national leagues, which will definitely help in the long run. But that doesn’t excuse the blatant lack of effort made to ensure the development of the League of Ireland over the last number of years. The CEO of the association, John Delaney, branded the League of Ireland as the FAI’s “problem child”. If that’s the case, this child should have been removed from Delaney’s care a long time ago, as having a so-called problem child seems to give the FAI an excuse to completely ignore the fact the league is even there most of the time, despite its obvious need for help.
Another example of the FAI’s questionable management of the domestic league was seen last week when Athlone Town were unable to fulfil a fixture against Waterford United as players refused to travel due to unpaid wages. An appropriate solution would have been to launch an inquiry as to why it was allowed get to a stage where Athlone Town could not afford to pay their players and why the FAI were unable to aid them, as it’s clear that the club are in grave danger.
However, the solution the FAI came up with was to fine the club for bringing the game into disrepute. Not only are the association that clubs are supposed to be able to rely on not helping them whatsoever, they have ensured that this club will find it even harder to pay their players as they now have to pay a fine bestowed on them by the very association that should be making sure the club survives these troubling times.
It seems to me that the FAI is a bigger problem child for Irish football than the League of Ireland is.
Another area where the FAI fails to fulfill their duty to clubs is the lack of promotion and advertisement of matches, and I’m not just referring to television broadcasts. Over the last couple of weeks, the second round fixtures of the FAI Cup were played. Only two of the 16 games played broke 1,000 people attending the matches.
57 people attended Athlone Town’s game against Letterkenny Rovers. How can any club aim to survive with 57 people attending a Cup game? A smaller attendance for a fixture with an opponent of lesser standing is to be expected but having 57 people attend a game is simply ludicrous and no club can be expected to survive with attendances like that.
Sufficient advertising must be put in place to attempt to entice supporters to come to games around the country, and that simply isn’t being done. The one club in the country that stands out on the marketing side of things is Cork City, who have advertised their club brilliantly over the last few years and it has paid off with a massive increase in attendance in Turner’s Cross over the last number of years.
Ultimately, I am of the opinion that the clubs in the League of Ireland should come together and decide that they aren’t going to accept the disinterest that the Football Association of Ireland have shown in running their own national league. I am of the opinion that the clubs should vote to break away from the League of Ireland and form a football league association that has the interests of domestic football in Ireland and of Irish clubs at heart. It is something I feel is integral to preserving and developing Irish football which, under the current regime of the FAI, simply isn’t happening.
The current merger agreement between the League of Ireland and the FAI runs out after the 2016 season, so if the clubs want to make sure that there is a possibility of a bright future for the League of Ireland, the time to speak up and demand change will come at the end of the current season. This year could see a turning point for the future of Irish football, all it needs is for the clubs to come together and turn that corner together.
Shane McDonnell, Pundit Arena