Wednesday 17 July 2019

'John Delaney told me 'if you go legal I will take it personally and there will be war'. It was war then'

Eoin Hand appreciates apology from FAI boss Mooney but still wants respect

As a player, manager and then Career Guidance Officer, Eoin Hand has spent much of his life in Irish football. Photo: Sportsfile
As a player, manager and then Career Guidance Officer, Eoin Hand has spent much of his life in Irish football. Photo: Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice

An apology, even a belated one made in private, is welcome.

But Eoin Hand, the former Ireland manager who spent seven years out in the cold as far as the FAI were concerned, says that an apology from Noel Mooney, the interim head of the FAI, is in itself not enough to make up for the hardship he endured in the time since he left the association when he was completely out in the cold, "airbrushed out of Irish soccer history" in Hand's own words.

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"I have earned respect, that's the most important thing for me. It's not about me just looking for compensation," says Hand.

"I put so much into Irish football through my life, as an Ireland player, the Ireland manager and then working for the FAI. And to be treated the way I was treated, with such a lack of respect from people in power, really hurt me."

Now 73, Hand spent three chunks of his life where he was bedded into the FAI.

First as a player with the Ireland team (1969-75), when he won 20 caps, and next as manager of the senior Ireland side (1980-85) where he just missed out on qualification for the 1982 World Cup finals with what is widely regarded as the most gifted Ireland side in the history of the national team.

Eoin Hand with fellow former manager Brian Kerr. Photo: Sportsfile
Eoin Hand with fellow former manager Brian Kerr. Photo: Sportsfile

Then, from 1999-2012, he worked for the FAI as Career Guidance Officer, where his role at first was to assist young Irish players who had encountered difficulty in England, though the role expanded as Hand oversaw a new system of compensation to Irish clubs for the sale abroad of players, Hand claiming that he helped bring €2.5million into the game here.

Hand says he started work on £9,500 a year, the post offered to him by then FAI General Secretary Bernard O'Byrne on a trial basis, but his income gradually increased to €60,000 per annum.

Advice

"So many people had been asking me for advice, I was asked to put together a proposal for the FAI, which I did. Bernard O'Byrne said they'd go with it for a year to see how it went. And it took off, I was busy all the time," Hand says.

"The Damien Duff and Robbie Keane deals had gone through so we were able to get some decent money in for compensation. I was proud of the work I did."

In 2012, when his contract was up for renewal, Hand went to meet the FAI's HR department and said that while he wanted to stay in the role, the then 66-year-old was keen to cut back on the workload.

He was instead informed that his contract would not be renewed and that his time there was up.

"They offered me a piece of cut glass when I was leaving. I said 'you're joking'. And that's where it all started," Hand recalls.

"The first thing I asked was: who is going to do the job I was doing? I'd brought €2.5m into the game here. After I met the HR person I insisted on a meeting with John Delaney. The first thing he said to me was 'you wouldn't get a one-on-one with the head of RTE'.

"Delaney told me 'if you go legal I will take it personally and there will be war'. Those were his words. It was war then. I won, they appealed and I lost."

He took a case for unfair dismissal to the Rights Commissioner, who ruled that Hand was an FAI employee and should be reinstated, but when the FAI appealed that to the Labour Court, the judgement, in 2013, went against Hand, who says the case cost him €30,000 in legal fees.

The result was not just the loss of his job but, as Hand sees it, his status.

Complimentary match tickets for home internationals, to which he was entitled as an ex-Ireland manager, were withdrawn.

"As soon as I began Labour Court proceedings, the match tickets for home games stopped. As a former manager of the team I'd always had them," Hand claims.

Hand says he became persona non grata in the FAI, an example in the fact that a piece which had been written with Hand for the match programme for a senior international game was pulled.

"I was airbrushed out of the history of Irish soccer," says Hand, who has not spoken to former CEO John Delaney since 2013. As the FAI got deeper and deeper into crisis since March, Hand says he was approached by Noel Mooney, who is in charge of the FAI on a six-month secondment from UEFA, and the pair agreed to meet.

"He contacted me, out of the blue, and said he wanted to meet me. I was going to Dublin anyway so we agreed to meet there. We had two hours together. He was asking me what I was doing, what I had done for the FAI in that role with compensation, all the things I had contributed to, like getting scouts registered," Hand said.

"Then he said 'how can we make it up to you?' I mentioned the Rights Commissioner decision that I be reinstated in the post. I admitted that's not a runner now as I am ten years older, but I did say they could restore me to the position I had, or else pay me a year's salary as well as my costs, it cost me around €30,000 in legal fees for my case. I said €100,000 would round it off. But he said they couldn't do that.

"He asked me about hosting home international matches, and I said I'd have no problem doing that. I am used to that sort of work, meeting people to talk about tactics, maybe tell stories from the old days. I said I'd be happy to do that as long as they didn't insult me with the fee."

That offer is still on the table and Hand hopes something can be worked out.

"People still call me to get advice every now and again and I'd do that again no problem, if they wanted to have me as some sort of consultant for career advice I'd do that, Noel Mooney said he liked that idea.

"I told Noel I knew it would be nice for him to get the likes of me and Brian Kerr on board, to say that the FAI had that sorted, but I told him 'don't use me'. That would only compound the hurt. I said I didn't want lip service.

"I know Noel Mooney has a hard job to do in there and he is due to come back to me. That offer is still there. I am no worse off and I won't give Noel or anyone the chance to say 'we offered the olive branch to Eoin Hand and he said no'.

Appreciate

"I will go along with what they offer, it's up to him and the FAI to come back to me but I do appreciate the fact that Noel Mooney reached out to me."

Hand says compensation would soften the blow for what he's suffered since leaving the FAI in 2012 but he wants more.

"There has to be common sense here. I don't want the FAI to just say 'we spoke to Eoin Hand and it's fine'. I took a big hit financially, it all had a huge effect on me financially.

"If they want to make it up to me they have to do something, I don't just want money but if they are to make it up to me, money would be a part of it.

"It's other things. There is not a photo of me to be seen anywhere in the FAI. I was blocked from doing a piece in the match programme against Georgia, that was so petty. I was airbrushed out of Irish soccer and that hurt. A game I loved, and I still feel bitter.

"I was hurt by it all, I gave a lot of my life to the FAI. I would like some respect back.

"I don't want to humiliate Noel Mooney as I know he has a hard job to do. But I think people in the FAI should take a look at themselves and ask if they were complicit in what went on in that regime. I have no respect for those still in the FAI who knew that people like myself and Brian Kerr were not being treated properly but said nothing."

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