Northern Ireland football, and its figurehead Raymond Kennedy, is facing an uneasy New Year as a split within the governing body deepens.
Irish FA President Kennedy and his No2 David Martin could now face a vote of no confidence over their handling of the Howard Wells affair, estimated to have cost football here over £400,000.
A call for the two to resign was made over the weekend by a leading IFA figure, the high-powered Portadown director and businesman Bobby Jameson.
Significantly, Jameson's support was crucial in winning power for Kennedy over deposed former President Jim Boyce in 2007, backing, he says, he now 'regrets very much.'
Jameson is believed to have been encouraged to speak out on behalf of Carling Premier League clubs, worried that a Government-ordered Sport NI inquiry into the circumstances of the Wells case could result in future funding being withheld unless changes are made at the top in the IFA.
Former Premier League chairman Jameson and his backers believe IFA chief Kennedy and vice-President Martin acted outside IFA rules when they sacked former Chief Executive Wells in 2008.
That cost the IFA an estimated £400,000 in legal fees and compensation to Wells in an out of court settlement of his unfair dismissal case at the end of last year.
Jameson rapped: “It pains me, both as a football man and a businessman, to see a large amount of money squandered when it ought to have been avoided.
“In any other company, those presiding over a situation like this would have to resign or be forced to resign.
“I called for the resignations of both the President and vice-President at the last meeting of the IFA Council when there was a clamour for answers that weren't forthcoming from the top table.
“Now I am repeating that call publicly, in the knowledge I am not alone in the IFA in considering their positions untenable. They should do the decent thing and go.”
With President Kennedy standing firm and refusing to budge, a vote of no confidence could be tabled when the IFA Council, the rank and file of the game, try again next month to extract answers on the Wells case from the association heirarchy.
A previous meeting last month was adjourned with President Kennedy citing 'confidentiality' when called to account for the IFA's huge liability in the Wells case.
But Jameson contended: “That will not wash. In this type of case the 'confidentiality' clause extends only to the parties discussing details publicly or through the media.
“As members of the Association, we are entitled to know how much our association is liable for and why it was allowed to happen.
“We need to know who did what and why — and how they got it so wrong.
“This is not going to go away. There is too much at stake here, in terms of the £400,000 loss and Government confidence in awarding us future funding.
“That is why we have called another meeting of the IFA Council for next month and asked for the Association's legal representatives to be there.
“We want to know what legal advice was given to the office-bearers in the Wells case and if it was followed?
“Myself and others would contend that the President and
vice-President did not have the authority, under the IFA's articles, to sack the Chief Executive.
“We would also point to Article 39 in the IFA constitution which disqualifies any director putting the Association at financial risk.
“We will also be calling for any future settlements, while hoping against, to be ratified by the senior clubs.
“Where it is possible to avoid, we cannot have large sums of money going out of the game, especially at a time when all clubs are struggling to make ends meet.”
The worry for under-pressure President Kennedy is that he has lost a major supporter in Jameson and must now wonder who else?
Ironically, too, were the President's position to be put to a vote, it could mirror the situation that saw Kennedy installed over the ousted Jim Boyce in 2007.
A split vote on the Presidency saw Boyce step aside when he realised he had lost the support of half the Association.
Jameson gave an insight into the machinations of that particular power struggle when he re
vealed: “I was approached by Raymond Kennedy and David Martin, seeking support for Raymond's candidancy over Jim Boyce, which I gave but now very much regret.
“They promised me openness and transparency in the running of the IFA but that has been sadly lacking in this case.”
IFA Council members expressed concern over the handling and cost of the Wells case at a stormy last meeting and that has now boiled over into open revolt in the absence of a clear explantion from the main players in the dismissal of the former Chief Executive.
Government paymasters, being asked to provide £25million in public money for IFA plans to revamp Windsor Park as a national stadium, are also believed to be carefully watching the IFA leadership situation.
That money could be withheld should the Sport NI inquiry into the handling of the Wells case find the IFA failing to meet the 'fit and proper' criteria for receipt of public money.
Jameson and his backers would attempt to allay funding concerns by installing an interim President to be followed by an agreed unity candidate, attracting support across the board from all levels of the game.
Currently the IFA is seen to be split between junior and senior interests.
“I consider the President and vice-President to be holed below the waterline and they should now jump ship before football sinks with them,” was Jameson's parting shot.
However Kennedy, with his power base in North West football, and Martin, the kingpin of Co Antrim and junior football, intend to remain firmly anchored.
President Kennedy responded to the resignation calls, saying: “I am 100 per cent committed to my role as Irish FA President. I have no intention of standing down.
“I have a lot of work still to do which will be beneficial to the Association.
“I will soon be announcing a number of lucrative friendlies which will bring a great deal of money into the Association.”
Money going out of football is of greater concern to his opponents and that could be the rock upon which the ship perishes.