On 30th July, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) announced a new ‘strategic’ funding plan whereby €100,000 would be distributed amongst the 20 clubs playing in the SSE Airtricity Leagues. This sum of €5,000 per club is to assist each club in ‘completing their five year plans’. However, this announcement is evidence of the FAI failing to take sufficient measures in order to stop the decline of Irish league football. While Irish fans may have turned up in their tens of thousands to cheer on the boys in green this summer, this did not reverberate on a domestic level. In fact, after the European Championships, League of Ireland crowds dropped to their lowest all season, because the vast majority of Irish football fans do not attend league of Ireland football matches. The poor attendance figures are merely a reflection of the FAI’s attitude towards the league of Ireland.
Derry City chairman, on 4th August, publicly rejected the new funding plan, labelling it ‘disgraceful’ while summing up, ‘it shows the lack of respect for the league’. This lack of respect for the league is also demonstrated by the prize money allocated across both divisions. Dundalk, the Premier Division champions last season, received €110,000 for their efforts this year, while Drogheda FC were given just €17,000 after finishing 12th. This level of prize money further highlights how monumental last Tuesday night’s result was as Dundalk defeated Bate Borisov, a team with 15 times their playing budget, to reach the play-off round of the Champions League. This is a staggering achievement due to the resources Irish football clubs have in comparison to other European clubs, even countries with similar populations to Ireland. It is hard to understand why the prize money for Irish league football is so low yet the salary of John Delaney, CEO of the FAI, is considerably more than his Spanish and Italian counterparts, at €360,000 a year. On Saturday 6th August, St. Patrick’s Athletic, after publicly rejecting the €5,000 sum the day before, released a statement concerning the FAI’s response to this rejection, which the club believed ‘attempted to undermine’ their decision to decline the offer. The statement continued, asserting that the FAI had ‘utterly failed to create a suitable environment in which a sustainable, commercially sound League which would nurture young talent and generate public support’. This frustration and lack of confidence in the FAI to develop the League of Ireland was embodied by Brian Kerr on Soccer Republic on Monday night. Kerr, who has been heavily involved in Irish football for over three decades, voiced the concerns of many involved in the League of Ireland towards FAI Director of Competitions Fran Gavin. Gavin failed to acknowledge obvious shortcomings of the FAI as Kerr berated, ‘all around the country there are ferociously bad facilities and nothing has been done about it for years and years.’
The confusion surrounding the provision of the FAI’s funding is never-ending. Just last week, for the third year running, John Delaney did not host a press conference at the FAI AGM. This refusal to listen and respond to queries regarding grassroots Irish football casts a further doubt over the priorities of the FAI. While Dundalk’s European success is one of the best Irish sporting achievements in recent memory, let’s hope this does not distract from the fact that the league of Ireland is in need of substantial investment if progress is truly a priority of the FAI.
James O’ Connell.