Thursday 23 January 2020

Declan Lynch: 'Bringing Executive Culture to the FAI game'

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

What we talk about, when we talk about the FAI, is football. This is sometimes forgotten as the End Time approaches for the FAI - their fate now at the discretion of that archetypal football man, Shane Ross.

Yes, it's football we're talking about there, the most popular sport in the world, one of the most popular things in the history of the world.

It is such an easy sell, in Ireland as in any other place, that you could say that it doesn't have to be sold at all - indeed, maybe it was too easy, enabling its administrators to devote their energies to whatever they've been devoting their energies to, all the way back to the days when the "Big Five" would actually pick the team.

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Yes, time was when the Republic of Ireland first 11 might be chosen by five FAI officials who might include in their number a man who in real life was, say, a butcher from Sligo - they must have thought picking football teams was easy too, so they just went right ahead and did it.

What would have been hard - what would have been really, really hard - was to be running an organisation which was trying to stop people from playing football.

You'd need to be a superior sort of a sports administrator to take on that role, to try to discourage the multitudes from playing the game that they love. Actually that would be a job, not just a role.

If you were to tell me that you'd need 400 grand a year for that, with various other entitlements and benefits and bonuses and emoluments, I might say to you: fair enough, I can see where you're coming from there.

Yes, that would be a challenge, an impossible one really, trying to stop people playing football - trying to go against this thing which is more than a sport, it is a major world religion.

But the FAI didn't have to do that. They had to do the opposite. You could call it pushing an open door - except there wasn't even a door to be pushed. It is one of those jobs of which it can truly be said that any eejit could do it.

But not these guys. Because if the need to popularise the game is virtually non-existent, the needs of the football administrators themselves are manifold. The process of "administration of sports" in general has that special capacity to attract the sort of people who only feel truly alive when they are "proposing a motion", or "tabling a resolution" which in some way improves the quality of their own lives. As for the sport itself, sure who can think of such things when you're getting measured up for a lovely bespoke blazer?

It was not for nothing that a well-known FAI official was affectionately known as Big Dinners, with his buddy enjoying the sobriquet, Little Dinners. And this way of life, over a period of decades, meant that when a man such as John Delaney came along, he could be regarded as a force for good, a "moderniser".

But it didn't quite work out like that.

Delaney brought something to the game that looked modern all right - because poor Paddy had not yet realised what this thing called Executive Culture can do to the culture in general.

Soon we would become familiar with members of the financial services community telling us that by paying them half a million a year, we were getting them for nothing - and they could get far more money somewhere else. We would count the ways they had for describing all the money they felt they were entitled to - their "remuneration" their "compensation", their "rewards".

But it took a while for us to realise that JD was one of those guys, or at least that he seemed to aspire to that condition. At times we wouldn't know if he was joking about how undervalued he was in his "role", given all the great things he was doing. Soon we realised it was no joke.

And eventually his brand of big swinging executive culture ended up the same way as the originals of the species, with the word "bailout", and of course the words "legal advice".

Like them he wasn't afraid of the big numbers, though of course he should have been. And we should have been.

On top of the ancient ways of the blazers was added this new layer of self-absorption, whereby Delaney would declare how much he loves football, and football people - as if this was a virtue in itself.

Mate, we all love football, and football people. These are very easy things to love.

I would also cite this great enthusiasm of JD's for publicly celebrating his own birthday. Personally I feel that once a man passes the age of 12 or thereabouts, he should realise that staying alive for another year is not really an achievement, as such, requiring large-scale festivities.

So the FAI somehow came through the era of the Big Five and Big Dinners and Little Dinners - only to eventually find themselves going forward with Big Swinging John.

Going forward and going down.

Luggala, a place of escape from everything Ireland represented

Some readers will no doubt remember Stan Gebler Davies, who wrote for this paper for a few years until his death in 1994. I didn't know him well, but I was still surprised a while back to learn that Stan was only 50 when he died.

Perhaps it was the melancholic aura of his personality which gave me the impression that he must have been much older, but there it was: Stan checked out at 50 - a fact which I only discovered while reading an obituary of his friend, the Guinness heir Garech Browne, himself the subject of an outstanding documentary screened on RTE1 last week.

Last Days at Luggala brought us into this fabulous place which was ostensibly in Co Wicklow, in Ireland - except it wasn't really in Ireland. It was a place of escape from Ireland, and all it represented, for artists or just for people of an artistic disposition from Brendan Behan to Sean O Riada and indeed Stan Gebler Davies.

A place of bohemian alcoholism of course, on the heroic scale, though unlike Stan, the drinking of Garech didn't stop him reaching the great age of 78.

Indeed if Father Ted has the underlying question, "what do priests do all day?", a documentary of this kind will quietly let you know what the better class of aristocrat does all day - he does what most of us would probably do if we had the option of greeting each new day with a bottle of the finest champagne, served to us by the butler. Basically, we'd drink it, and we'd ask for more.

Many spoke of the loneliness in Garech which perhaps had something to do with the fact that he loved artists and helped them in very practical ways with his record label Claddagh, yet he had not created masterpieces.

Then again perhaps it had nothing to do with that, and anyway the Luggala he created was itself a kind of masterpiece.

*******

When Fallon Sherrock last week became the first woman to win a match against a man at the PDC World Darts Championship, I recalled an ITV daytime show from the last century called Indoor League - which was probably the first time that women were seen on TV playing darts.

It was presented by cricket legend Fred Trueman, the ultimate Gruff Yorkshireman, the Gruff Yorkshireman that other Gruff Yorkshiremen call The Gruffalo. And the reason I recalled it, was not just the fact that it shows that the women's game wasn't invented last week, it was also due to a line of Trueman's that stuck in my head.

He called the women playing darts, "birds of a feather".

No further questions, m'lud.

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