Sunday 20 May 2018

Tallaght strategy pays off for club that faced extinction six years ago

Fergus Black

THINGS didn't just look bad, they were bad.

Shamrock Rovers were starring into a financial abyss. Their beloved club was burdened with crippling debt, was without a permanent home and was facing extinction.

Now, just six years on, delirious Shamrock Rovers' fans are in clover, cock-a-hoop with delight.

After the club made soccer history by becoming the first League of Ireland team to qualify for the group stages of a major European championship, 'The Hoops' are in line for a guaranteed €1m pay day.

"You don't think the story could get any better but it just did," said Rovers fan Buzz O'Neill after learning that the team had drawn top English Premiership side Tottenham Hotspur in the group stage of the competition.

"This is Roy of the Rovers stuff, it's David versus Goliath. It's a movie waiting to be made."

Without a permanent home for more than 20 years after the then-owners sold their home ground at Glenmalure Park in Milltown for property development in 1987, Rovers hit rock bottom in 2005.

Struggling at second bottom of the Premier Division with just two points from a possible 12, the club was facing financial ruin with spiralling debts of more than €2.36m.

The High Court appointed an examiner in a bid to attract investors. The examiner Neil Hughes said his appointment confirmed the High Court's view that Rovers had a reasonable prospect of survival.

The move allowed the 400 Club, a supporters group, to successfully bid for ownership of the club and help bring it back from the brink.

"Six years ago we were facing extinction, the club was in examinership and our faith was decided by a judge's gavel," said Buzz.

"He ruled that the future of the club was best in the hands of the fans."

The 400 Club managed to raise just under €1m and their efforts were matched by Rovers fan and generous benefactor, Ray Wilson, who put up a similar amount to save the club.

Off the field, the club faced a new setback as its plans for a new stadium in Tallaght were hit by a legal challenge by a number of GAA clubs who claimed a right to use the facility.

The saga soon became entangled in red tape and the land passed back to the local authority which completed the development as a community sports facility with Rovers offered a good tenancy package at the site.

"It's quite a turnaround in our fortunes in a short space of time," said Rovers' financial director James Nolan yesterday.

"It's been a long journey when you reflect that we came so close to going out of business. But the supporters came forward and took out bank loans to bail us out."

Irish Independent

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