Delaney's FAI tapped clubs' €1m windfall to fund association
Failed: Vantage Club tickets 'novelty soon wore off'
John Delaney’s FAI tapped into the €1m property windfall of a leading amateur football body to help bail out the association over the past decade, the Irish Independent can reveal.
Since selling its Dublin city headquarters in 2009 for €1.1m, the Leinster Football Association (LFA) – the largest and oldest provincial body in the country – has seen its reserves shrink to €113,510.
The vast majority of the LFA’s outlay was accounted for by an initial €635,000 splash on Vantage Club tickets.
The FAI’s failed 10-year premium Vantage Club scheme proved the catalyst for its €70m debt pile.
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Treasurer David Hearst yesterday admitted that he ring-fenced €100,000 of the remaining reserves into a secure, long-term account to prevent “prying eyes getting their hands on whatever we have left”.
The scheme had been trumpeted as a 'toll bridge' by Mr Delaney.
The LFA has also since forked out on additional hospitality at the Aviva Stadium, from the Jack Charlton Lounge to Club Ireland tickets.
The LFA's 17 leagues were informed at a council meeting a fortnight ago that there was just €13,510 in the association's current account.
Its last major expenditure came in late 2018, when it agreed to a request by Mr Delaney for €100,000.
This was an advance payment for 20 decade-long premium tickets to kick in from 2020.
By this stage, the Vantage Club brand had been banished, to be replaced by Club Ireland.
"If anyone wanted to progress in football, you had to play ball with the CEO," Mr Hearst said yesterday.
"I don't know of anyone in the amateur ranks who didn't play ball.
"It was felt that the CEO could walk on water. People feared putting their head above the parapet.
"All of our deals were conducted above board and with approval of our council but we've not come out smelling of roses.
"We're all guilty for what has unfolded in the FAI. Not just the football affiliates but also Sport Ireland and the auditors Deloitte."
Mr Delaney could always count on the LFA's support - both financially and vocally - in his times of need.
Minutes of meetings seen by the Irish Independent showed the alarm bells on the FAI finances were visible back in 2014, around the same time Mr Delaney's declaration of delivering a debt-free association by 2020.
Just three months after Mr Hearst reported the FAI to be "behind in grant payments", the September 2014 council meeting heard how the money would instead by paid through match tickets.
"The officers had no option but to accept this proposal as the FAI would not be in a position to pay the money owed," reads an entry into the official record. In March 2015, Mr Hearst warned members that a more pragmatic approach to expenditure was essential after their assets had "dramatically fallen" from €1.1m in 2010 to €445,000.
When they were launched, Vantage Club tickets, priced at up to €32,000 each, were presented as providing the best views within the rebuilt stadium from 2010.
"The novelty soon wore off," admits Barney Blood, a former LFA president.
"We had some demand for tickets early on but sponsors became less interested in free tickets when the likes of Oman were coming to Dublin."
The LFA's €100,000 contribution this time last year formed part of a €650,000 whip-round Mr Delaney generated to ease another looming cash crisis.
It has emerged that the Schoolboy FAI (SFAI) and Tipperary South District League shelled out €50,000 for a corporate box and premium tickets respectively while Mr Delaney made a personal payment of €50,000.
This was noted as a related party transaction in the recently published FAI accounts for 2018.
Mr Delaney's previous dig-out in 2017 - a €100,000 "bridging loan" which was repaid later that year - was omitted from the original set of accounts, eventually leading to auditors Deloitte lodging a complaint with the Companies Office.
The Waterford man finally resigned from the FAI in late September, taking with him a severance package worth €462,000.
That pay-off, revealed in the delayed accounts released on December 6, is set to be discussed tomorrow when delegates gather at the Citywest Hotel for the reconvened annual general meeting.
Rather than heading into the new year debt-free, as Mr Delaney had bullishly predicted right up to his demise, the FAI is grappling with extinction.
The new interim eight-person board, including outgoing president Donal Conway, revealed 10 days ago its battle "to avoid an insolvency process".
Their confession came less than 48 hours after showdown talks with government officials at Leinster House.
Sports Minister Shane Ross claimed that the FAI sought a bailout of €18m at that summit - a plea they flatly rejected.
They have ruled out acting as guarantor on the refinancing deal that the FAI is trying to broker with the Bank of Ireland.
Uefa, the European football governing body which has urged the FAI to sell its stake in the Aviva Stadium as an emergency measure, is due to have a meeting with Mr Ross on January 14.