Belfast Telegraph

Own-goal headed off by IFA as man who changed its image avoids the jobs axe

BY CLAIRE MCNEILLY

The man who helped transform the image of the Irish Football Association is to stay with the local game's governing body despite his post being axed.

Last month the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the IFA was to jettison the role of community relations officer, which had been occupied by Belfast man Michael Boyd for the past 13 years.

The decision was lambasted as a retrograde step by, among others, former two-time Belfast Lord Mayor Jim Rodgers.

But now it has emerged that Mr Boyd will remain at Windsor Avenue as the IFA's director of football operations – a newly-created role which is expected to help maintain the cross-community and anti-sectarian initiatives that proved so successful in the past.

Jeff Wilson, the other high-profile IFA employee whose head of marketing and communications role was axed, has also been handed a new title, director of commercial and community affairs.

The association's apparent U-turn was prompted in part by the departure of IFA technical director Desi Curry, which meant that both Mr Boyd and Mr Wilson could stay on the payroll instead of having to go head-to-head for one position.

These latest moves are part of a major structural reorganisation at the IFA, which kicked off with the appointment of former Northern Ireland captain Jim Magilton as elite performance director.

The Belfast Telegraph understands a number of IFA staff at various levels are considering redundancy packages as the restructuring continues.

Mr Rodgers said he was delighted with the decision to retain both men rather than potentially make them go head-to-head for one job.

"These men are both well-known, they're highly respected, they get out and about and they certainly have enhanced the image of the Irish Football Association, which had been tarnished for many years for many reasons," the Belfast councillor said.

"Speaking to those close to the IFA, they were a bit surprised at how these new positions had been created, but I hope someone read the article in the Belfast Telegraph last month and decided to have a rethink.

"I warmly welcome people of this high quality being kept because they're important – not just to the IFA, but also because they are needed to continue to improve football in Northern Ireland and beyond.

"I've every confidence Michael Boyd and Geoff Wilson will make their mark on their new roles."

During his tenure as community relations officer, Mr Boyd spearheaded the award-winning EU-supported Football For All anti-sectarian campaign and he oversaw a total transformation in the organisation's image, especially with regard to the behaviour of Northern Ireland fans.

The IFA is now seen as a strident anti-sectarian campaigner and supporter of cross-community initiatives – which made the decision to dispense with the role of community relations officer all the more surprising.

Mr Wilson had been in his post since 2005 and has been responsible for an increase in the association's commercial activity.

PROFILE

In February 2000 Michael Boyd joined the IFA in the new position of community relations officer. Soon he was having to deal with the fallout from NI captain Neil Lennon being jeered by a section of his own fans and, later, a death threat to Lennon. Windsor Park was also being billed as a no-go area for Catholics by nationalist politicians. His efforts to rebrand the IFA as an anti-sectarian and pro-cross-community body earned him several major awards, including the Excel Leadership Award for his Football For All campaign. His efforts, alongside those of the Amalgamation of NI Supporters Clubs, have resulted in our international fans now being regarded as among the best-behaved and most welcoming in Europe.

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