Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

IFA storm brewing

Raymond Kennedy and Howard Wells didn’t always see eye to eye when they were a partnership in the Irish Football Association and no doubt their opinions on the events of last week will be pretty different as well.

Kennedy has come out on the defensive after the mud being hurled in his direction gathered pace when the Sunday newspapers hit the shelves.

Headlines like “Kennedy and Martin are Dumb and Dumber!” might have led him to choke on his cornflakes.

The Martin in question is David Martin, vice-president of the IFA, and the man being blamed — along with Kennedy — for burying a knife into Wells’ back.

Wells was last week sacked from his post as IFA chief executive and at the minute the only people who are hearing all the gory details are the lawyers.

No doubt, a verbal slanging match between Kennedy and Wells will begin soon, but until then the president is saying: “The right decision was taken in the interests of the IFA and football here.

“Football in Northern Ireland will benefit in the long run.”

You can almost hear Wells whispering underneath his breath: “We’ll have to agree to disagree on that”.

The Sunday papers didn’t make pleasant reading for Kennedy — or in fact for anyone who cares about football in Northern Ireland.

Even our international manager, Nigel Worthington (pictured with Howard Wells), warned against the association drifting back to the “dark ages” and it’s bad old administrative ways.

You have to feel sorry for Worthington — it’s a hard enough job trying to qualify for a major tournament without this nonsense going on in the background.

But Kennedy yesterday insisted that Worthington wasn’t about to walk out on his country and that the decision to sack Wells was the correct one taken at the correct time.

“People can say that the IFA’s image has taken a battering again but a decision had to be taken in the interests of football here,” said Kennedy.

“I can’t explain why Howard lost his job for legal reasons but the accusations that the IFA is a circus or a body which is not fit for purpose are nonsense.

“We are working together for the good of the game and as far as I am concerned everyone is pulling together in the same direc

tion for the good of the game at domestic and international level.

“People talk about the dark ages of the IFA but it should be remembered that we qualified for two World Cups during those so-called dark ages.

“We will continue to get on with the business of running football here and a new chief executive will be appointed in time.

“But names being linked to the post like Allen McKinstry is just absolute nonsense. It’s speculation and paper talk.”

There was plenty of speculation and paper talk for Kennedy to digest over his Sunday roast.

Martin, vice-president of the IFA, has also been heavily criticised for the way in which the axe was bought down on Wells but Kennedy says many of the attacks are unfair.

“Some stories in newspapers are saying things that were never said,” added Kennedy.

“It has been claimed that all board members did not agree with the decision that was taken but I can say that is nonsense.

“I don’t know how these figures got out but they are wrong and the board has ratified the decision taken.

“Mud has been thrown at me and others but only the people involved within the IFA know the whole truth.”

Kennedy added that speculation that Worthington was considering his position as Northern Ireland chief was wide of the mark.

“Nigel knows my feelings and he himself would deny that there was any thought of him resigning over this issue,” said Kennedy.

“I am confident that will not happen. He remains committed to Northern Ireland and our World Cup qualifying campaign and I have no worries on that score.”

Wells had taken a grievance case against his employer but there is now a question mark hanging over this action.

“With the chief executive now gone from the association there will perhaps be no decisions taken around that,” said Kennedy. “There have been no discussions about any pay-outs but we are aware Howard is taking legal advice. If people were in possession of the facts they will understand why the decision was taken.

“The reasons behind the move will come out in time and then people will understand what happened.”

While Wells and Kennedy hold fire on any verbal assaults, the speculation is sure to gather pace.

Was it the Maze issue which brought the axe down on Wells? Was it a personality clash or a financial dispute?

“I will not dismiss anything at this stage,” said Kennedy. “I would just like to reiterate that football here and the IFA is not in crisis. The international and domestic game will receive the support it needs to prosper.

“I am confident that recent events will not have a negative impact on funding levels at the IFA and we are anxiously awaiting an announcement from the government on the stadium issue as that is very important to the future of our game. The IFA’s position on the Maze has not changed since January 2006 when he agreed with the plans in principle provided the Windsor Park contract issue was resolved. Talks are ongoing in that area and I am very hopeful that issue will be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

“It is difficult to sustain international football when your capacity is limited to 14,500. We need that vital revenue to invest in the game.”

Kennedy insisted he has no plans to walk away from the association.

“I am happy to stay on as president and a lot of work has to be done,” he said. “New managers have been put in place at international level and we have to move forward.

“Everyone in the IFA wants to see football develop and we are putting everything in place which needs to be in place for the game to go from strength to strength.”

Even the most imaginative Hollywood script writers would dismiss this story as an unlikely tale. Prepare to read the sequel.