Vincent Hogan: John Delaney should honour right of supporters to air views
Published 13/06/2015 | 02:30
First, a confession. I like John Delaney. I enjoy his humour, his moxy, his interest in life energies other than football.
We've met for a pint occasionally and, once beyond his appreciation of Kilkenny hurling, the interaction never really threatened to bring me out in hives. I've always found him engaging, easy company, the kind of person who gets emotional just talking about everyday things like watching his son play football.
I say this because I have a suspicion that people who've never met him maybe see some kind of modern-day Duke of Orleans, endlessly fomenting political intrigue and conspiracy. No question, he has the street cunning that all good business folk require and the sharpness of eye that would spot a spilled euro in the dark.
But, if I'm honest, he's not always the most self-aware of people. He can commit to an extraordinary interview like last week's with Ray D'Arcy on RTE without, I suspect, fully processing the likely interpretation of a €5million payment to the FAI from FIFA's vaults, reputedly, for human error.
I mean, since when did human error in sport become actionable?
I know that John eventually alluded to other things like seeding issues and Sepp Blatter's grin as being a fundamental of any potential legal case, but there was zilch in FIFA's own paperwork connecting the money to anything so nuanced.
It seemed they paid it as an expression of plain guilt for Martin Hansson's howler.
Now there is a view that any self-respecting businessman would have done precisely what Delaney did next. That is, harvest this "hush money" quicker than a lottery winner lodging their big cheque. I mean what's more likely to keep the wolves from the door when you're servicing a €70m debt?
A polite 'no thank you' or five big ones?
But his interview with D'Arcy suggested that he did not recognise the irony, scorn or faux-sincerity in voices asking him about Blatter's money. The fundamental conflict between depicting FIFA as some kind of moral slum in desperate need of a power hose, yet blithely acknowledging giddy patronage of the same slum seemed to escape him.
Now it should be repeated (many times maybe) that John Delaney did not receive a single cent of the FIFA payment. But it is, nonetheless, troubling that he sees such a transaction as a "legitimate" part of football administration.
Look, as chief executives go, he's probably ahead of the curve. He certainly seems to have stifled a culture of blood-letting at the FAI, albeit the view of many would be that the Association's dealings these days aren't always entirely transparent.
That said, he deserved kudos for responding positively to the initiative of the You Boys in Green supporters' website, calling for a testimonial dinner for Dave Langan. I know from personal experience that Paul McGrath cannot speak highly enough of the man's accessibility and kindness and, as to his singing of rebel songs, I'd care less about that than I would about his response of, first, denial and, second, threatening litigation on those who report it.
He is a man, I believe, who genuinely cares about Irish football, even if - sometimes - he doesn't articulate that care as eloquently as he might. He acceded to YBIG's request for a designated singing-section in the new Lansdowne to help generate a better match-day atmosphere.
But that same section will be under particular scrutiny for very different reasons today.
Since last November's friendly international against the US, section 114 of the South Stand has become home to a peculiar tableau. Back then, fans frustrated over the FAI's ticketing arrangements for the upcoming Euro qualifier in Glasgow, sought to stage a peaceful protest involving flags and banners, some - it is true - bearing messages looking for John Delaney's resignation.
Stewards and gardai moved in to remove these banners, despite no apparent stadium guidelines being breached.
Delaney is on the record as saying he has no problem with fans protesting, so why did the same thing happen last Sunday at the England game? And is it likely to be repeated against Scotland this afternoon? If so, can he not stand down the thought police?
The concern of supporters over that Scotland game was never the number of tickets allocated by the Scottish FA (capped at 5pc or 3,000), but rather the FAI's allocation of same. Yet, he enraged the Scots by suggesting they'd be to blame for any likely "tension" on the Celtic Park terraces with Irish supporters forced to mingle with their Scottish counterparts. FAI officials then boycotted the pre-match reception in Glasgow, hardly the most adult of gestures.
So John, it seems to me, doesn't always help himself. I still see him as fundamentally decent, but maybe people just need to see that more.
A start would be in allowing supporters the right to peaceful protest today.