Sunday 26 May 2019

Lilywhite supporters club in Boston

Dundalk FC players, Sean Hoare and Robbie Benson at the official launch of the Dundalk FC away jersey at CX+ Sport, along with Malachy Brannigan, CEO Dundalk FC, Billy Doyle, Dundalk Credit Union, Turlach Cotter, DkIT, Noel Stewart and Donal Waters, Blackstone Motors and Vincent Dolan, Total Produce
Dundalk FC players, Sean Hoare and Robbie Benson at the official launch of the Dundalk FC away jersey at CX+ Sport, along with Malachy Brannigan, CEO Dundalk FC, Billy Doyle, Dundalk Credit Union, Turlach Cotter, DkIT, Noel Stewart and Donal Waters, Blackstone Motors and Vincent Dolan, Total Produce

James Rogers

Chicago is well known for sport with the Bears, the Cubs, the Bulls, the Blackhawks and the White Sox just some of its most famous brands.

Dundalk Football Club can now join the list of sporting organisations with links to the third most populated city in the United States following the establishment of the Chicago Dundalk FC Supporters' Club last week.

The new group is spearheaded by local man Dean Arrowsmith, who many will know as 'Pingu'. The 28-year-old has been a Dundalk supporter all his life and worked at the club from 2008 until 2012. Starting off working on the schools' programme, Dean graduated up to become the club's kitman under Ian Foster and was club promotions officer in 2012 before being let go at a time when the future of the club was very much in doubt.

Dean later was a pivotal figure in the Save Our Club campaign and admitted himself it was 'crazy' that just six years later he had gone from trying to prevent Dundalk FC from going out of business to promoting it Stateside.

'It's crazy,' he said.

'I think it was two months or maybe even six weeks after I got let go by the club that we set up the Save Our Club group. To go from a point where you're setting up a club like that just to keep the club going to now setting up a Chicago Supporters' Club to try and build a brand out here is just nuts.'

Arrowsmith, who is Director of Coaching at AYSO Region 300, has lived in Chicago for the past two and a half years. He first discovered others interested in his beloved club while attending a festival last summer.

'I was sitting with my fiancée and the next thing a fella walks across and he was wearing the club and country t-shirts that they brought out a few years ago that had the Dundalk crest and the FAI crest on them. I got talking to him then and he was a Dundalk native called Bryan Mullen. Kind of through that I learned there would have been a small following of League of Ireland football out here.'

Interest in the League of Ireland in the Windy City has increased since Chicago-based Peak6 led the recent takeover of the club.

Last Monday Dean met with new some of the new ownership group including chairman Mike Treacy, vice chairman David Samhat and board member Mike Hughes and told The Argus he was excited by what they had to say.

'They really want to build a brand out here,' he said.

'They want Dundalk to become the Celtic of Ireland - to be to Ireland what Celtic is to Scotland. The supporters' club is the first step we're taking in doing that.

'We're going to do it locally in Chicago first but the plan is to hit the cities with big Irish populations like Boston and New York to try and find people that could set up a similar thing in those cities as well.

'The whole thing now is about building the fan base here now in Chicago and with Peak6 here it's a no brainer. The owners are going to be members too so they'll be pushing it to people as well.

'One thing that I'd love to see is summer camps out here with the likes of Liam Burns or Martin Connolly coming out here because ultimately it's the kids we need to get interested. It's going to be a tough ask but if we can get some sort of streaming sorted then it can open itself to a bigger audience.'

Dean admitted that it was difficult to watch matches in Chicago but said he was aware this was something the new owners were working on.

'The biggest problem that the club is facing is that you can't watch games out here. There's no streaming service available. I know the FAI has a deal with a betting company (Trackchamp) but in Illinois you can't gamble online so it's pointless to anybody in certain states out here.

'Even the kids I was coaching, their parents watched the European games but they haven't seen a game now for a year and a half because they're not televised back here so it all comes back to access to being able to see the team play.

'I know they're open to getting streaming going and from what I gather they have been chatting to the FAI about that. The current deal with the gambling firm isn't benefitting anyone as far as I can see particularly out here in America where there is so many States where you can't gamble. It's even more illegal than going on a normal streaming site.

'I think the league and the FAI are missing out by not having that exposure. I know when I spoke to these lads yesterday I gave the example of the English league clubs from the Championship and below all have a streaming service on their websites which you pay for and you get exclusive content then like interviews, games etc.

'I think some of that is a no brainer especially when clubs don't get money from the TV companies for showing their games. I can't go to Oriel Park and buy a ticket but if I had an option where I could pay every month to watch the games it would be the next best thing.

'I got to watch the European games in 2016 in a bar out here called the James Joyce that's owned by ex-Shamrock Rovers player Brendan White. He streamed them for me but right now you have to ask people to show it but I know from talking to Peak6 that they want to get to a point where the games can be shown in every pub in the country. Not even in the States, I know there's a supporters' club in Sydney, one in London and one in Spain. With these lads taking over and with their plans for the club there is huge potential here and I was very impressed by what they had to say when I met with them.'

While some fans remain apprehensive about the takeover, 'Pingu' is confident that the new owners are well intentioned.

'From meeting them face to face yesterday, they seemed genuinely excited about the prospects of the club and where they can take it. I know they do have plans to upgrade the ground but it's going to be gradual process.

'The good news that I got from them yesterday was that we are going to be staying at Oriel Park and it will be an upgrade of that rather than a move to a new site. Personally I was delighted to hear that because I'd hate to see Dundalk play home games somewhere other than Oriel.

'Yes, they're investing but they want to build this club into something. It's not going to be done overnight. They came in knowing that Andy (Connolly) and Paul (Brown) are probably the only two owners to leave a League of Ireland club with money still in their pockets. They're not dumb to that fact. It's reassuring to hear they've done their research and that they know the work that has to be done. I'm a lot more hopeful after meeting them in person.'

He also revealed that the investors were happy to back the establishment of a new supporters' club down the line.

'One comment that impressed me was they said they don't want to necessarily be known as owners but investors. They said the town owns the club. It's the people of Dundalk's club but they are there to improve the facilities, improve the team and improving Irish football really. They want to improve the league as a whole, not just the club,' said Arrowsmith.

The Argus