Sunday 23 July 2017

Where does the football family go from here?

David Kelly

David Kelly

So, what now for the Irish football family?

Where lie the hopes and dreams of the thousands upon thousands of those involved in the game's grassroots as they survey the desperate, unremitting chaos of the very cash cow that was supposedly destined to perpetually nurture them?

This morning, it would seem, like so many other elements of a ruinous society scourged by economic despair, the very future of domestic soccer threatens to be rent asunder by a scarifying degree of financial uncertainty.

What else can be deduced by the chaotic attempts to complete the sale of premium-priced accommodation at the home of Irish football, a project now sadly uncovered as an exercise in helpless desperation?

monument

The Aviva Stadium, constructed as a sparkling monument that would drive FAI finances for generations to come, may instead come to represent a permanent memorial to a series of fatefully ill-advised and ill-judged decision making.

It is now a sadly enduring irony that the very thing that was supposed to make the game stronger than ever in this country, is now threatening to weaken it for an interminable time.

Not only is their the dire scenario wherein the FAI will have no further monies to invest in so many of the worthy schemes they have already put their name to throughout the land, but their very capability of sustaining their commitment to their portion of the stadium cost itself must be in grave doubt.

The nightmare scenario threatens to see the FAI return to that state of 'chassis' which has afflicted them for so much of their troubled existence -- that of an impecunious tenant, beholden to their rich and regimented sporting cousins in the IRFU.

For there must now be an extreme worry that the levels of FAI indebtedness may reach a crippling level, never mind the difficulty they may now face in assuaging their banking partners' doubts about the viability of their projected income streams as they struggle to shift tickets.

Indeed, as many supporters can testify in recent days, an even more frightening possibility for the FAI to contemplate is that, instead of joining the dwindling queue of interested buyers, diffident clients are now deciding to return tickets and renege on loose commitments to purchase.

All the while, the greatest enemies in a time of financial crisis are worryingly omnipresent -- an apparent lack of communication, a recidivist absence of transparency within a supposedly democratic institution and a pervasive sense of desperation supplanting calm authority.

The FAI have taken a disproportionate amount of flak for their financial toils in the recent past. But then again, the FAI have been embroiled in a disproportionate amount of financial toils, so it is easy for the rest of us, at the very least, to conduct a simple mathematical equation.

Predictably, we shall expect a storm of stoic rebuttals from the organisation, as they stoutly parade defiant certainty that all current obstacles can be overcome, that the field of dreams will eventually offer bountiful harvest.

Perhaps so. But when? And at what cost? In the continuing absence of certainty, when prevarication and prognostication triumph over clarity of purpose, how can it be possible for the FAI to boast credibility when the bald facts of the matter so oppress them?

As it becomes clear just how the FAI's sales strategy has been hopelessly misguided, the one thing that strikes home so resoundingly is the fact that the stress all so needlessly became a burden.

At the beginning of the project, International Stadia Group (ISG) offer to stump up €75m for all of the premium seats -- not only that, they would swallow every cent of the potential risk. However, the FAI spurned the request, wallowing in the delusion that they could ignore decades of incompetence and suddenly become masters of the ticket sales universe.

The FAI dispute this point, last night denying that any such offer had been proffered. It seems strange, then, that their former president, the renowned intellectual heavyweight David Blood, should trumpet confidently last May that the FAI Board had decided to forge ahead with their own business plan and ignore any outside help. The result of this vivid illustration of fiscal foresight undertaken by the FAI? It is, ladies and gentlemen, the gargantuan, elephantine debt that now dangles dangerously above their heads like a sword of Damocles.

The figures are truly terrifying. The €38m bank debt which lingered threateningly at the end of last year. The €21.9m cobbled together -- from whence it is unsure -- subsequently doled out to balance their contribution to the cost of completing the Aviva Stadium.

Since then, the FAI have been advanced permission to borrow still further.

The most alarming figure of all is the €74m chief executive John Delaney cheerily said that he would "write a cheque for tomorrow" when the ill-fated Vantage Club scheme was launched two years ago.

In all the analysis, it is crucial to point out that, as much as the football family will lose out as a result of the chaos now unfurled, it is also members of the football family who failed miserably to protect their interests as the crisis unfolded.

Did anyone attempt to shout stop? Why were so many seemingly self-important representatives of all strands of football in this country so meekly submissive, despite receiving so many mixed signals and cloudy updates?

For all that, the buck stops with the chief executive, even if a series of questionable decision-making required the purportedly insightful input of the rest of the board members.

The supreme irony is that, despite the backdrop of swathes of empty seats, Ireland's football team continue to perform on the football field with a supreme sense of calm authority.

As Ireland's international soccer team continue to inch towards international respect-ability, off the field the association that funds it is inching into financial uncertainty.

The field of dreams is threatening to harbour Irish football's worst nightmares.

Irish Independent

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