Last chance saloon or flogging a dead horse?

The Sunday Times has published Platinum One’s report on how to transform the fortunes of domestic football on this island and, not surprisingly, it involves the creation of an All-Ireland Premier League. The plan would see the league run along the lines of the English and Scottish Premier Leagues which would have a prize money of nearly €4m (£3.2m) a year, this at a time when many clubs on both sides of the border are struggling to remain in existence,not least Sligo Rovers and Galway United. The document makes for some sobering reading.
It is hoped that the league could be running as early as August of next year with seven clubs from south of the border and three from north of it, including Derry City. The teams from the Republic invited to join are Bohemians, Drogheda United, St Patrick’s Athletic, Galway United, Limerick 37, Cork City and Shamrock Rovers. They would join Linfield, Glentoran and Derry City.

The man behind the idea, Fintan Drury, is hoping to remove the running of the domestic game at the highest level from the two football associations, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) and the Irish Football Association (IFA) as soon as possible.

“Those charged with the stewardship of the game have failed in their responsibility to clubs despite the dire warnings of the Genesis report in September 2005,” he said.

“It is our belief that circa 80% of the clubs in the domestic leagues are in dire financial difficulties and the majority are technically insolvent.”

The report states that football is up against a very professionally run GAA as well as an ever-improving IRFU in the battle for fans, sponsorship and media rights, a battle football is currently losing. Without a professional all-island league in place, Drury believes domestic football will never be able to compete. The report lists all those clubs that have struggled in recent years:

– Examiner appointed to Shamrock Rovers
– Omagh folded after 43 years’ existence
– Crisis club Waterford prepare fire sale to secure future
– Coleraine given survival chance
– Bohemians confirms financial difficulties
– Athlone Town reveals “frightening losses”
– High Court petition to wind up Cork City football club
– Dublin City Football Club goes bust with debts of almost €1.5 million.
– Debts cost Shelbourne dear
– Mathews may quit as Longford woes mount
– Ards pull out of running for new league
– Law moves on directors of bust club Coleraine FC

The Executive Summary highlights the plight of football here and how it believes the league will work:

– Domestic football in Ireland is beset by grave financial difficulties. The prospects
for the game are completely hopeless. Without an urgent and radical overhaul the
game on both parts of the island will continue to fail.

– Clubs are haemorrhaging money. Those clubs at the top of the game, which
aspire to improving standards, cannot lift income levels to match their
commitment. Most of the smaller clubs are similarly “stretched”.

– Initiatives to improve matters already taken or planned by the two Associations
have had little or no effect.

– The game can only support one professional league on the island combining the
best run and supported clubs from the Irish League with the appropriate mix of
clubs in the Republic in an all island league.

– The proposed All Ireland Premier League would start in August 2009 with 10 full
time professional clubs invited to participate.

– In year three two more clubs – one from each jurisdiction – would join the AIPL.

– This league would be the top of the professional game in Ireland. The remaining
clubs would compete in the League of Ireland and the Irish League and could, as
and from year three, qualify to play in the AIPL.

– The new league would provide a full-time professional competition for players,
spectators, sponsors and broadcasters.

– Most critically the new league would attract many of our better players to stay in
Ireland even if the very best talent continued to go to big clubs in Britain.

– It would also mean that more of the better players who are good enough to play at
the top level would go to Britain later than they do currently.

– The AIPL would be an independent entity run by a private company under licence
from the FAI and IFA each of which would have a representative on its board.
The independence of the AIPL would mean the autonomy of the two associations
would be protected. No other aspect of the game in Ireland – North or South -would
be affected by this move. All revenues generated by the AIPL would be put back into the clubs

– Clubs would need to meet very strict Licensing criteria as set by UEFA through
the Associations Club Licensing Departments, to qualify for the AIPL including
meeting financial demands that would protect the League against unanticipated
difficulties.

– Four European places would go the League.

– The AIPL clubs would remain affiliated to their respective associations and would
play in their annual Cup competitions.

– Players would be registered with their Association and approved to play in AIPL

– AIPL clubs would be obliged to play in an AIPL underage league that would
provide the natural link between the schoolboy and the professional games.

– The critical determinant of success with any professional sporting endeavour is
the reaction of fans, broadcasters and sponsors. We know that the current
offering is failing to generate enthusiasm with any and all of these audiences and
without radical and speedy change the professional game here is doomed to fail.

Note: Drury’s plan involves the continuation of both national teams, the League of Ireland and the Irish League.

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    “Our Wee United Country!”

  • Great idea, go for it.

  • DC

    Yes, it makes sense, get the buy-in from cross-country engagement and this should confirm the belief to supporters that it is a workable and beneficial concept. Both to fans and the advancement of local football while retaining the integrity of national sides.

    It has innovation, let’s hope it gets the leadership.

  • the future’s bright the future’s orange

    If an all ireland works with rugby and hockey, why not football? Go for it. Only thing would be – would the smaller clubs still survive? I imagine teams like Coleraine and Limivady survive by having 1000’s of Linfield and Glentoran fans arriving at their grounds 2-3 times a season. WOuld the money at the top filter down?

  • smcgiff

    If these clubs break away from the FAI and IFA, will they be allowed to play in Europe?

  • poxy

    If this idea works to the advantage of both leagues, what would the effect be of a football association also incorporating wales and scotland, perhaps even england ? if we can improve the prospects of clubs by creating a two nation international league, why not a five nation one ?

  • willowfield

    If an all ireland works with rugby and hockey, why not football? Go for it.

    Rugby and hockey are amateur, plus the rugby one doesn’t really work – attendances are dire.

    WOuld the money at the top filter down?

    Of course it wouldn’t. The whole point is to enrich the “elite” and forget about the rest.

  • oneill

    If these clubs break away from the FAI and IFA, will they be allowed to play in Europe?

    No, although, in all truth, given recent performances, that wouldn’t be such a blow. Such a league set up without the sanction of the IFA/FAI and UEFA would however mean that any teams and, by extension, players would be banned from performing outside the island; but the plan seems to presuppose the IFA/FAI handing over a fair bit of present control, and I can’t see those particular turkeys voting for an August Christmas>

    “The new league would provide a full-time professional competition for players,
    spectators, sponsors and broadcasters.”

    So, (not taking into account coaching staff), that would mean the paying of 150 plus full-time wages…that will not be covered by any potential increased gate-receipts; why would a Linfield v Galway game attract any more spectators than a Linfield v Cliftonville (or even er..Portadown) would at present? Would sponsorship be sufficient enough to cover that deficit (never mind increased travelling expenses and, in many cases, the required ground-improvements)?

    The island of Ireland has too small a population and is now too close, regarding travelling time, to Manchester, Liverpool, London and Glasgow for this to work- there is simply not enough potential fans to go round.

  • Michael Robinson

    plus the rugby one doesn’t really work – attendances are dire.

    The issue with the Rugby All Ireland leagues is that there are TOO MANY teams in it (3 divisions with 48 teams in total)

    Costs for the smaller teams are significant.

    The sensible approach would to reduce substantially the number of teams in the All Ireland league with the rest reverting to provincial competitions… but this suffers from the “turkeys voting for Christmas” issue with the clubs that would miss the cut, and inter-provincial squabbling about representation at the top level. Sounds familiar?

  • Greenflag

    Extract

    ‘This document charts a way forward.’

    They all do -documents I mean and none more so than this one . How much did it cost to prepare ? Probably a platinum price no doubt .

    ‘Considerable work needs to be done on the detail
    of how this would be implemented.’

    So despite the report the ‘how to implement ‘ detail is still a mystery .

    ‘ To move to that stage demands the attention and support of the associations and the two governments.

    Neither are that much interested for now . Ireland North and South needs another gneration or two of exclusion from international competitions before the penny drops . Anyway any such ‘domestic one island ‘ league might -just about increase Ireland’s chances of European or World Cup representation from once every 24 years to once every 12 or 16 years. Not enough of a reward for the ‘bureaucrats ‘ of both Assocations to consider worth their time.

    Is there any other part of Europe /World that has a single domestic league for two political jurisdictions ? Korea (I don’t think so ) Certainly not the former East Germany ? How did the former Czech /Slovak ‘national team ‘ work out -How does it now operate ? One league or two . Cyprus ?

    And then there’ll be the ‘national anthem ‘ shite to wade through when the cup final etc has to be played . And another dreary lifeless /bloodless combo anthem will be foisted on supporters 🙁

    Leave well or should I say unwell enough alone and let ‘nature’ take it’s inevitable course . It’ll be kinder that way and it’s what bureaucracies and committees are good at 🙂

  • DC

    O’Neill such a negative post. What is the alternative to drive up competition between NI top teams, where is the internal Northern dynamic?

    This is at least an attempt for football to operate in a stepped up and more streamlined league, with better opponents. And if the fans don’t want to go along to see a competition in which their team competes then I find that truly remarkable.

    It will not have an amazing effect on football here but it will certainly assist with the development of it a good deal more than not having it.

    Noticeably the FAI is slated for its unimaginative response and overly bureaucratic and sour approaches to clubs, this is a chance to put football under the umbrella of the FAI-IFA whilst allowing for more creative football helped by having a dedicated marketing league brand. Hopefully producing better teams that play better football as a result of better competition and prize money.

    It’s a good idea, a new idea, new ideas get attention in an area of sport that badly needs a shot in the arm.

    What is it with people in Northern Ireland with this rush of negativity to the fore, perhaps too much public sector work with boring bureaucratic jobs tends to limit vision fuelling such dim views aiding a malignant footballing status quo.

    “So, why would a Linfield v Galway game attract any more spectators than a Linfield v Cliftonville (or even er..Portadown) would at present? Would sponsorship be sufficient enough to cover that deficit (never mind increased travelling expenses and, in many cases, the required ground-improvements)?”

    Answer: it’s called marketing and exposure aided by better performances through increased competition in the hope of more, er excitement.

    It’s a 5 year contract if it doesn’t well then it doesn’t work.

  • culligan

    well i’m a nationalist and all that but oneill asks fair questions.

    I think he’s being practical not political and i cant see an all ireland league adding 10% to money and attendances, if that.

    and greenflag, if they have a spark of sense if they do organise an AIL there will be NO flags or anthems or shit like that.

    It’s not worth the hassle IMO

  • oneill

    DC,
    Negative or realistic?

    For it to make economic sense, it must attract not only the diehards, but also those fans lost to the the two leagues over the years and also people who would never have previously dreamed of going to a game.

    That will be impossible for two main reasons:

    1.In comparison to twenty years ago, it’s now dirt cheap for folk to follow actively, every week their favourite English/Scottish teams either live (both in the UK and Europe)or on the tv. The alternative fare offered up by any potential all-island league is not going to change that fact.

    2.There are now also infinitely more attractive alternatives, for what would undoubtedly be Mr Drury’s target market (ie the middle-class family)than sitting in (an albeit revamped) Windsor or the Oval seeing the Blues slug it out against the pride of Limerick or wherever .

    Regarding your point about marketing and sponsorship being attracted by improved playing standards and excitement- the streamlining of the Scottish leagues most certainly has not been a success in that regard- what would be different here?

    I’m not against the concept (as long as the integrity of the two international teams is maintained) in principle- it could have worked pre Sky and Easyjet twenty odd years ago, but today? No chance, I’m afraid.

    And please don’t ask me for viable alternatives, for I haven’t got any!!!

  • DC

    “And please don’t ask me for viable alternatives, for I haven’t got any!!!”

    Well at least your honest and on that note alone what more can be said!

  • Greenflag

    culligan ,

    ‘and greenflag, if they have a spark of sense if they do organise an AIL there will be NO flags or anthems or shit like that.’

    If they had a spark of sense ? I’m glad you used the word ‘IF’ because whether they have or not is still debateable . Personnally I think the whole thing is a red and blue/green and orange herring . This is a fish that’s not going to swim in water .

  • Concerned Loyalist

    “Law moves on directors of bust club Coleraine FC”………………………………………..

    The Bannsiders are on the up, thanks very much. We got to the Irish Cup Final in May, where we played Linfield off the park, on their own patch. We were 1-0 up at Half-Time, but they had 2 chances in the 2nd Half and Pistol Pete Thompson put them in the back of the net, he was the only difference between the two sides. In the past week we’ve played Derry City, one of the leading lights of the Eircom League in the Free State, and English side Macclesfield Town of League Two. The Super Stripes won both games 3-1 and 1-0 respectively, but in truth they comprehensively outplayed both sides! Does this sound like a side in trouble?

    Financially we’re in a far better position now too thanks to the “Friends Of Coleraine” who have put a lot of money into the club. However, this so-called “All-Ireland” League would ruin the club. On our day we can beat anyone, as we’ve shown throughout the years. We’ve also got the best support outside of the “Big Two” of the Blues and the Glens. Why then should we be treated with such contempt? The games against the Blues and the Glens, as well as our local derby with Baaa-llymena United, are the games the fans look forward to and where we at times double the gate from the previous home match. Without the games against the “Big Two”, I believe a lot of clubs will fold. They’ll find it hard to attract and keep players when there’s more money to be made in a so-called “All-Ireland Premier League”. Why should we be driven into the ashes because of a report that makes the proverbial “rich” richer and the “poor” poorer? We’ve had a proud history, going strong since 1927, and we’ve got a far superior football team than the likes of Limerick 37, Shamrock Rovers and Galway United!

    They are the footballing and financial reasons why everyone but the “Big Two” will suffer. That’s not taking into account the feelings of Blues and Glens fans who will have to trek all over the island to see their side play, at no small expense, especially if they have families!

    There are also the political reasons to take into account, both inside and outside football. Will FIFA, for example, question the legitimacy of having two Football Associations on the island if there is an All-Ireland league? Will they push for a merger, thus rendering the Northern Ireland football team defunct?
    There is also the constitutional question to think about. Why have clubs from two completely independent, separate nations playing in the same domestic league? Cardiff and Swansea City are the exceptions from the rule as they are Welsh and play in English domestic leagues, but not only are they far superior to their Welsh counterparts, it is also not so much of a political football for them to play in England as it is for our clubs to play in an All-Ireland League.

    In summary I’m not shocked or surprised by this latest report. I’m sure the clubs involved will be all for it with the money up-for-grabs, but I’m equally sure that the clubs not involved will fight it tooth and nail.

    Forgetting my opposition to the report, it is typically disrespectful to the Irish League by only awarding us 2 of the 10 spaces. Forget Derry City, they’re an Eircom League side, they shouldn’t qualify as one of three Northern Ireland sides. I am confident that the likes of Cliftonville, Lisburn Distillery, Ballymena United and Coleraine would beat Galway United 9 times out of 10. The reason they have 8 Eircom and 2 Irish League sides is so that the Eircom League teams have a clear majority and veto on any crucial decisions. If Platinum One were in any way serious about maintaining equality and a level playing field there would be 5 sides from each league. Bohemians, St. Pat’s Athletic, Cork City, Derry City and Drogheda United from the Eircom and Linfield, Glentoran, Cliftonville, Ballymena United and Coleraine from the Irish League would provide a fairer and much more competitive league…

  • gram

    This is all tinkering at the edges. Some imagination is needed. The IFA should put together a single Belfast based team that could compete, like Cardiff city, in the English football league.

    We start at the bottom rung and work our way up.