Thursday 23 January 2020

Ewan MacKenna: 'John Delaney was never, ever alone in all of this'


JOHN DELANEY: Massive payouts from the FAI. Picture: Sportsfile
JOHN DELANEY: Massive payouts from the FAI. Picture: Sportsfile
Ewan MacKenna

Ewan MacKenna

'When you hear of 20 years of money being put into bank accounts which are being used for personal usages, as opposed to national associations and confederations, that's incredible damage. I don't know of any world body that's been damaged so much, and over a continuous period of time. And what's to come next? That's the other question. It could be anything. Nothing surprises you and it's time for change.'

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John Delaney in advance of the Fifa presidential election, May 2015

There's a story about John Delaney that perhaps, better than any other, sums up the real person and his actual personality. It revolved around nothing more than the football community in this country trying to do right by one of its old stalwarts who'd had it tough.

Dave Langan played 26 times for Ireland. Being the sort that would run through walls may have drawn great praise back in the 1980s, but by the 1990s it saw his body bruised and broken to the point he was registered as disabled. Still harder times followed, as did a fundraiser, which the FAI and Delaney agreed to back. Spirits were so high that a bar tab running into the thousands was spent on drinks during it, but the CEO then refused to foot the bill. Instead his plan was to take the five figures from the money raised for Langan. His sister had to beg.

That was 2008.

Therefore for the last 11 years anyone who wanted to know the character of Delaney easily could have. Instead, though they chose to ignore it for a myriad of reasons, and sold their decency so they could purchase the dream. They never asked why, merely how much.

That created a seriously sizable mob that refused to have him held to any sort of account.

Ken Early of Second Captains recalls interviewing him during a live show in 2011 when he was with Off The Ball. This a full three years after Delaney tried to save money on a disabled footballer that, it turns out, he was readily spending on himself. That night he brought a bandwagon to roar him on as if a boxer swinging, and when asked about his €400,000 salary he said the crowd was bored and this wasn't the place for economic chatter. The entourage cheered him again. Afterwards though, Delaney fumed that it was agreed in advance that the conversation wouldn't veer in that direction. However Newstalk's CEO Frank Cronin noted, "I can tell you categorically that I did not give him any such guarantees".

Delaney left that night, celebrated by that massive mob that wouldn't see any wrong.

The truth didn't matter to them.

Yet John Delaney is a liar under any definition of the word.

John Delaney is a hypocrite under any definition of the word.

And John Delaney is much more than that under a whole list of definitions of many words.

But John Delaney was never, ever alone in all of this.

* * *

No man is an island.

Particularly when it comes to basically bankrupting the biggest participation sport in a relatively prosperous country - this according to Niamh Brennan, professor of management at UCD Centre for Corporate Governance, who wrote during the week that the FAI will need a government bailout to survive. You can be bad at your job and see the money disappear from your company, but when much of that money is going to your lifestyle it's different.

So where do we begin for there were many that will have considered him a friend, never realising in business he didn't have friends. He had interests. That interest was himself.

Kenny.jpg
Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport Shane Ross and ex-FAI CEO John Delaney at UEFA EURO 2020 Host City Logo Launch – Dublin at CHQ Building in North Wall Quay, Dublin. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

Maybe with our senior politicians who refused to speak ill?

That reached the very top.

In 2015, around the €5m from the same Sepp Blatter and Fifa that Delaney tried to claim he railed against while actually indulging them in their method of business, Enda Kenny said that the CEO "should answer and will answer all of those questions. His position is tenable".

And dripped down...

Shane Ross was more a cuddled-up pug than attack dog when it suited, and now proceeds to call a new and dying association a basket case for yet more political gain despite the commercial damage of his point-scoring slogan. Following in a long line of sports ministers he's been happy to use the benefits of football investment for his political benefit and it's reached the stage where Fifa is glancing at the politicisation of this which is dangerous.

And down to the ilk of Michael Healy-Rae and his "mother of all welcomes in Kerry"...

They are far from alone in such a sphere.

For this isn't about bad judgment of character, but refusing to judge a bad character.

Maybe with Sport Ireland who did as little as nothing?

So much so that the question has to be raised as to what they actually do? Oversight wasn't their forte. In fact, one sports source who is incredulous with Sport Ireland’s lack of custody over the FAI said these meetings involved Delaney and the FAI with coffee around tables, shooting the breeze, and on occasion slow-walk tours of facilities.

Maybe with senior football politicians who are thick or complicit?

After all, the likes of Donal Conway only last week couldn't so much as tear away his allegiance despite all we know, with the president taking yet another bullet for Delaney in saying he was to blame as he didn't keep an eye on matters. That's not good enough; nor was the fact he didn't go to Robert Finnegan of Three about a new CEO coming in in an attempt to salvage a sponsorship that had been arranged at a figure said to be €10m over its duration; nor was the fact he wouldn't walk away when this all broke; nor was the fact he wouldn't resign at the EGM; nor is the fact that he won't quit now and insists on another couple of months.

He wasn't alone either for the inner sanctum was a foursome, and along with Conway and Delaney, Michael Cody and Eddie Murray have some amount to answer for. Even if they didn't know of the €60m hole the association had dug - they ought to given they were signing off on the outgoings - they were willing to give a guy with questionable expenses fully-paid gardening leave, rather than a boot out of the door.

Checks and balances?

Cheques and imbalances would be more fitting.

Maybe with the football family as they went like Oliver Twist with a bowl in their hands and begged, 'Please Sir, I want some more?

Such as Kerry District League secretary John O'Regan who said, "He's done a fantastic job, he did mighty work for many, many years. I'm listening to people in grassroots in Kerry and Limerick and all over. In youth soccer and junior soccer and schoolboy soccer. They have no problem with John Delaney."

Such as Combined Counties chairman Jim Kelly who said "each and every one of the people here tonight are behind John Delaney", and then had him presented with a banner that read: A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and who shows the way.

Such as the Leinster, Connacht, Munster, and Ulster associations and the FAI junior council who, after the allegations became public, still backed their man.

Such as the Clare District League who suspended a member from all football-related activities for six months for expressing his disgust at their post acknowledging Delaney for his support on social media.

Maybe with certain supporters and even supporters' groups?

Like the Confederation of Republic of Ireland Soccer Supporters’ Clubs who just last year invited Delaney to their AGM and annual awards dinner; had dozens of members pose for photos with both him and his other half; stated that "he's always very good to us", despite his association's treatment of many fans in the stands, before adding that they "always found him very fair. He would meet us for a drink sometimes and he hasn't got an ego. He’s a supporter." and who said other supporters' groups were jealous as he favoured them.

They were far from alone of course.

When Delaney showed up for an international after the beans began to be spilled he was still mobbed.

What does behaviour matter when you're a celebrity in this culture?

Maybe with Deloitte as auditors who at hundreds of thousands a pop wrote down what they were told?

Their 2017 report on 7 June, 2018 claimed that, "we communicate with those charged with governance regarding, among other matters, the planned scope and timing of the audit and significant audit findings, including any significant deficiencies in internal control that the auditor identifies during the audit. Our objectives are to obtain reasonable assurance about whether the financial statements as a whole are free from material misstatement, whether due to fraud or error, and to issue an auditor's report that includes our opinion. Reasonable assurance is a high level of assurance".

Yet they missed out on €85m in liabilities, of which €65m are due this year, and that reported net assets of €22m were actually worth €14m, and didn't notice Delaney's credit card transactions and gave the green light to a going concern they now refuse to sign off on. Contacted, they pointed to their revised audit of 2017, as if that's all well and good then.

They are getting off the hook when deep analysis and high levels of assurance isn't jotting what you hear.

Maybe with the lot of them?

For they all played their part in this, many via the common he-fixed-the-road attitude in our politics and via blind tribal loyalty to someone that doesn't deserve it.

What it's left is a stain not just on our soccer, not just on our sport, but on our society.

* * *

As if a learnt-off phrase, last Friday at a press conference, Paul Cooke didn't start well.

A man once brave enough to call out Delaney at AGMs as the crowd were happy to have him reprimanded, he skipped the most basic principle of public relations and failed to win easy favour by apologising for the acts and actions of the office he has now assumed.

Then he did worse.

He said that it's time to draw a line under the past.

We hate to tell him that this has to be the end of the beginning, rather than the beginning of the end, for a bill cannot simply be left for those who ate nothing by the fat man walking out the door with a smile. It's the great fear here for in Irish life some seem too big to fail.

Of late, the FAI actually simultaneously announced, with a straight face, the discovery of serious financial irregularities and then how they rewarded it. They admitted that their accounts "noted that certain expenses incurred during 2017 and 2016 by the then CEO were of a personal nature and these have now been disclosed as part of the director's emoluments". Then they told us of the giant package handed to the man behind this as he left wealthier again.

On it goes.

A source in aviation spoke of how he's been flying out of Shannon lately.

A source in London has said it's his destination as he's doing business there.

A source in sport says he was working circles around Leaders In Sport conference, as if his talent from a past life shouldn't be wasted and as if he should go on with more of the same.

A source in business says he's involved with an old friend in this new endeavour.

There are some silver linings at least.

The Sport Ireland commissioned report by the KOSI Corporation was referred to Garda Headquarters last month. And it has been reported that the Garda team working alongside the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, currently investigating corporate governance issues at the association, may now be joined in this by the Revenue Commissioners.

We can but hope for something to come of all this. Anything.

Football has been reduced to its knees.

Those who did that should be made sink so much lower.

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