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.