Sport Soccer

Sunday 19 November 2017

Standing together

FAI Director of Communications Peter Sherrard addresses the media
at Malahide yesterday.
FAI Director of Communications Peter Sherrard addresses the media at Malahide yesterday.
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

HOW fitting that a meeting scheduled to discuss the future relationship between the FAI and the League of Ireland should clash with the day where separate events brought tensions to the verge of breaking point.

Internal strife goes with the terrain of Irish football, but there's a serious momentum behind the anger stemming from Limerick's futile attempts to arrange a friendly with Barcelona for reasons that remain undefined, despite a truly astonishing statement from Abbotstown last night which merely served to question the thinking or motivations behind their earlier explanations.

While they maintain the line that the ultimate factor is a third-party commercial agreement, the terms and conditions of that arrangement are shrouded in confusion. Earlier in the day, the FAI's Head of Communications Peter Sherrard told assembled media that the association had agreed a deal which meant they could not sanction any such friendly fixture with an attendance in excess of 20,000.

"It's very simple," he said, "Any games with a capacity of over 20,000 we can't authorise."

So, he was asked, what if Limerick restricted the attendance for the planned July 31 date with the Spanish champions at Thomond Park to below that figure. Like, 19,500 for example?

"I don't know," he replied, "I'll have to come back to you on that."

Later in the day, the FAI released a new missive with an updated version of the vague clause.

"The association has third-party commercial agreements which prevent it from granting the game in stadiums with a capacity in excess of 15,000," it read.

Sherrard also said that the visit of Manchester United to the Aviva Stadium on August 4 satisfies the terms of the commercial agreement, even though the Irish Independent was last week informed that the game was an FAI event, arranged without any third party.

Is it any wonder people are sceptical here?


Last night, the Shannonsiders unsurprisingly reacted with disdain, asserting it's the first they had ever heard of the 15,000 stipulation. The FAI statement said they were under the impression that the Catalan club had made no firm commitment for Limerick on July 31 and had other options for that date.

In response, the First Division club pointed out that they have shown the Heads of Agreement with Barca to local media in the city, which proved that everything was ready to be signed and sealed but they could hardly blame Barca for pursuing other options when they need to draw up a schedule and didn't anticipate the idiosyncrasies of Irish football being such a stumbling block.

The situation is ridiculous and the timing quite remarkable. First, the clash with the Lansdowne Road re-opening and now the occasion of a day in the calendar, the FAI Cup third-round draw, which brings the clubs from around the country together.

It was already arranged that Galway's Nick Leeson, UCD's Dick Shakespeare and Shamrock Rovers' Noel Byrne would meet John Delaney early in the day to discuss the merger between the league clubs and the FAI.

The existing Participation Agreement expires next year, so clubs must vote by post before May 28 to decide whether to continue with the association running the show. The finer detail related to the size of the divisions and the topical issue of commercial matters will be hammered out thereafter.

The trio of Leeson, Shakespeare and Byrne then reported back to delegates from the rest of the league (with the exception of Derry, Salthill Devon and Wexford, who were absent) in a gathering at the D4 Berkeley Court Hotel. However, with Limerick owner Pat O'Sullivan present, debate quickly shifted to the big issue of the day. Nobody present had ever heard of the 15,000 limit either, even though some had included a provision in their submitted budget for friendly matches which would bring in €100,000 to the coffers.

The clubs rowed together behind Limerick in a show of solidarity and wanted to draft a statement expressing their disappointment with events that would either be released to the press or sent directly to the FAI hierarchy. Alas, there was disagreement over the formalities of doing so.

They also support Limerick in attempting to force the FAI to reveal the exact details of this third-party commercial agreement which has denied them a significant windfall. O'Sullivan wants answers by Friday and isn't prepared to accept his fate "lying down".

The FAI argument is that the clubs made their bed and lay in it when they signed the current Participation Agreement, which they say entitles the association to "enter any commercial agreement which it sees beneficial to the game" whereas "the game Limerick FC have referred to would benefit just one club".

Separately, the binding Participation Agreement states that no club can arrange a match without the prior consent of the governing body, which is standard practice in every country under FIFA rules.

However, the clubs are keen to query the legality of the link between the two, feeling that the FAI, who retain the desire to bring Barcelona to these shores themselves, hold an unfair power. Sure, the clubs knew the FAI had the final say on granting matches. They had no idea, though, that their wings would be clipped and the commercial stipulation cited if they secured an occasion of a larger than anticipated size. It was suggested that the Competition Authority should be consulted.

Indeed, the FAI statement which was intended to provide clarity succeeded in throwing up as many questions as answers.

With respect to the possible clash between a Bohemians Champions League match and the Manchester United date, they indicate they are prepared for the eventuality. If Shamrock Rovers or Sporting Fingal win through to the corresponding stage of the Europa League, and also get drawn at home in that particular week, then it was already agreed that the Champions League game would take place on Tuesday, August 3, and the Europa match on August 5.


But what if Rovers and Fingal don't get through? Or they are drawn away? And what if Bohs are drawn away for the second leg of a Champions League third-round qualifier on August 4, the biggest domestic football game in years, while the FAI are wining and dining at their grand opening in Dublin?

The Manchester United match is about the money, something the association desperately needs to pay back the spiralling debts on their disastrous sale of 10-year tickets for the renovated Lansdowne.

Limerick are also bemused by the FAI pointing out that only "one club" would benefit from the Thomond occasion and then in the same breath listing other friendlies they have granted, all of which benefited only one club.

Laughable stuff, with the added novelty of three superpowers -- Barca, Man Utd and the Real Madrid side lined up by Athlone -- inadvertently dragged into a domestic dispute.

The tenants are getting restless, yet the landlords have gotten hold of the shovel. And they seem intent to keep on digging.

Irish Independent

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