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United Park in hands of bank as part of FAI debt

Hoey: 'If Bank of Ireland ever exercised that [sale of United Park to help pay off the FAI's debts], they can shut every branch within 20 miles of Drogheda'

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United Park

United Park

Conor Hoey

Conor Hoey

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United Park

A defiant Drogheda United chairman Conor Hoey insists the League of Ireland club will not leave United Park until their proposed new stadium is built, despite the FAI reportedly signing over the ground to Bank of Ireland as security for its debt.

Mr Hoey says he first heard about the development when he read it on social media last Wednesday (2nd), and while he is 'not too worried' he agreed that he will be seeking clarification from the FAI about what the news means for Drogheda United.

The story in the Irish Sun newspaper stated that United Park was one of seven arenas - the others being the AUL, Oscar Traynor Centre, Ferrycarrig Park (Wexford FC), Ray McSharry Park in Sligo, Cobh Ramblers' St Colman's Park and the FAI's share in Aviva Stadium - that had been signed off as the embattled Association tries to fight off the threat of insolvency.

Reacting to the news, the Drogheda chairman said: 'I learned on Friday that, unfortunately, Gary Owens is not going to be the [permanent] chief executive, but he re-assured me in an email and I'm going to have a meeting with him because there's a few things I want to tease out.

'For example, if United Park is sold to help fund the new stadium, what happens to that security? What rights do Bank of Ireland have, what restriction might be put in place on us?

'My only concern is that I was really hoping that Gary was going to stay on and I'm a bit disappointed. Good luck to him in whatever he does.

'But put it this way. If Bank of Ireland ever exercised that [sale of United Park to help pay off the FAI's debts], they can shut every branch within 20 miles of Drogheda.

'I can assure people of one thing. We will not leave United Park until somebody hands me the keys to a new stadium and that is that. I don't care if it's crumbling down - we ain't leaving.

'If you said we would have to play somewhere else for two matches... that would be stupid [to refuse], but we're not spending a season in Dundalk.'

Mr Hoey's apparent lack of concern is based on the reported value of the seven grounds - €200 million - put up as security for the repayment of a €28.5 million loan.

'I'm not too worried about it. If you look at the extent of the loan and you look at the collateral, why do they need all that security? We must be right down at the bottom of the collateral and if they were going to liquidate something they would liquidate their holding in the Aviva. They've already had offers from people to invest in the Aviva, so they could easily liquidate that holding and pay off the bank, but they don't want to and I get that.'

The Drogheda chairman had been seeking a meeting with the interim FAI chief for an update on the club's plans to move to the proposed new 5,500-seater stadium at Newtown Cross, at the rear of Aston Village on the Termonfeckin Road.

Hoey remains upbeat about the project coming to fruition, although it may be many years before it is completed in full.

'Back in 1985 my dad gave United Park to the FAI, effectively to keep it out of the hands of speculators and property developers and I always think that as a club I am perfectly happy for us to have this stadium or a new stadium held by the FAI, in effect in trust, once the proceeds of any sale are used for the provision of football in Drogheda.

'I have various communications from the FAI going back over 35 years which show this. If you look at the 1991 report and accounts of the FAI it mentions it [United Park] as an asset and says we have a right to buy it back. We have never exercised that right.

'We're in talks with them about the stadium and how we're going to fund it and United Park is part of that.

'We have a €2.5 million offer on United Park and as far as I'm aware that's still on the table, so we have been looking at what €2.5 million could build in terms of a new stadium.

'It's not going to build you a 5,000 surround stadium, but it might build something with 1,200 seats, something like the Athlone model, and then you can build from there and we'd have space for a training pitch next door which is really, really key.

'What I'd like to do is for us to own our own training pitch. If I could fund, by raising money ourselves, an Astroturf pitch next door to the new stadium, that will generate income and will save us money.

'Then we'll have the stadium next door and I don't mind the stadium being owned by the FAI.

'Covid and everything has thrown everything up in the air, but the offer [on United Park] is still there as I understand it and the County Council were looking at the [Newtown Cross] site and some of the engineering aspects around it.'

While the new stadium seems as far away as ever - it was originally hoped it would be completed in time for the start of the current season - Mr Hoey feels it would benefit the FAI in the long term if the project was advanced.

'The positivity in it is that there is a real focus on facilities in the FAI and I think they need to focus on one or two projects, probably us and Finn Harps and probably Dalymount Park which is a much bigger project.

'If we could start seeing some progress on all of those, I think people would look at the FAI and say they're doing the right thing.

'One of the work streams in the FAI at the moment is facilities and I think that increased focus would do us good and hopefully we'll benefit from that.

'I think exploring things like Astroturf in United Park is sort of off the table now. I did want to do it at one point, and the reason is that increased FAI focus on facilities. But now I look at it and think what's the point in spending €50,000 on toilets here when that €50,000 could be one-tenth of the price of a training pitch.'

Drogheda Independent