As those who have survived the bleakest of League of Ireland hibernations come blinking in to the light of a new season, Seán Mulvey finds few reasons to be hopeful amongst the gloom which enveloped the close-season.
It has been a most dramatic winter for domestic football, but once again it has been for the all the wrong reasons. As the temperature plummeted and snow covered the country it was hard not to think of Arctic explorer Lawrence Oates walking off in to a blizzard, as Irish clubs shuddered, hoping they’d survive till the spring. Cobh Ramblers were the ones who left the warmth of the league, just going outside to the A Championship, and it may be some time before they return.
Back inside the tent and just about weathering the storm, Drogheda United, Bohemians, Cork City, cling to life. Once more rampant overspending has been allowed tarnish the league and bring clubs to their knees in the League of Ireland (the “Eircom” suffix and the money it brought, another casualty).
That Cork City were given a licence to compete in the Premier Division will come as a surprise to fans who thought their club would disappear on entering examinership at the tail end of last year. Somehow the Lee-siders managed to keep the bones of their squad from free spending days of Arkaga, including the likes of Colin Healy and Joe Gamble, whilst they’ve even found the cash to sign Faz Kudozovich and sack manager Alan Matthews.
A much needed lesson on overspending may not exactly have been learned at Turner’s Cross, but even that is preferable to the farcical situation that has been allowed to develop at Drogheda United. Having spent ridiculous money to ensure they could bring the title to the town for the first time in their history in 2007, they have been brought crashing back to reality.
Pipe dreams of a new all-seater stadium to replace the dilapidated United Park were never going to come to fruition, and yet still they were allowed spend on foot of an idea that all outside observers could see was fanciful. After being run in to the ground, the club conceded it was close to bankruptcy and required the intervention of the courts.
“A much needed lesson on overspending may not exactly have been learned at Turner’s Cross, but even that is preferable to the farcical situation that has been allowed to develop at Drogheda United”
Like Cork, Drogheda has survived, its debts cleared by the courts and they are free to start again. Inexplicably though, chairman Vincent Hoey has been allowed continue in his role as chairman, the position from which he oversaw Drogheda’s spectacular, completely foreseeable, demise.
What makes this harder to bear for other clubs is that both sides, having declared their financial woes at the end of last season, will suffer no penalty or point deduction this year. Having both spent far beyond their means in order to buy a title, Cork City and Drogheda United are now debt-free, top flight clubs with all their points intact. In Drogheda’s case the architects of their downfall retain their position as Club Directors.
It would be nice to think history won’t repeat itself, again, but the signs are ominous. Bohemians seem set to follow Drogheda’s path. Believing in a pie-in-the-sky stadium and property deal, they’ve overspent drastically to ensure last year’s title, and now the financial realities are hitting home. With huge infighting between fans and the Board, it seems financial ruin is just around the corner for the reigning champions.
Yet still they’ve found the money to sign talismanic Cameroonian Joey Ndo. There is little doubt that in 2009 clubs will continue to fail to budget for the amount of paying fans they can reasonably expect. In 2010 more clubs will drop out of senior football because of this.
One reason to be hopeful though is seen in the not-so-far away developments in Dublin 24. Shamrock Rovers went through the boom and bust process before the term ‘credit crunch’ was coined, but their reaction to financial crisis should be studied carefully by Bohemians et al.
After financial implosion and relegation due to a points deduction in 2005 Rovers tore it all down and started again. The Board which had carelessly run the club was thrown out, replaced by fans who run the club with the long-term future, security and prosperity of the club in mind. A few years of mid-table mediocrity is a small price to pay for a club well run and now financially sound.
Crucially, this new season sees Rovers move to their impressive new Tallaght Stadium after years of a nomadic existence. With things being right off the field, on-field success will surely return soon to Ireland’s most successful club. Others in the League of Ireland must quickly follow Rovers’ realistic, long-term outlook and look to balance the books. The League won’t be able to survive many more winters like the one just passed.