Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

IFA words are not enough to help save our crisis clubs

Raymond Kennedy

Irony is clearly a stranger to well-meaning, but out of touch with reality, Irish FA President Raymond Kennedy.

His fiscal advice to financially struggling Irish League clubs on our back page yesterday would be all the better received had the association he heads up not been at its most productive in recent years, swelling the pension funds of lawyers and former administrators.

Nearly one million pounds gone out of football in legal fees and pay-offs to former chief executives David Bowen and Howard Wells.

Poor-mouth clubs will find that rich.

In their hour of direst need, they get lectures in housekeeping from the IFA.

Much as Billy Connolly once sharply observed — when the people of Scotland were starving, their wealthy benefactor Andrew Carnegie gave them libraries.

If anyone in Northern Ireland football is laughing, it is at the IFA, not with them.

The association whose job it is to promote, develop and ensure the well-being of ALL football here has descended into a joke in poor taste.

As they lurch like a drunken sailor from one crisis, calamity and controversy to the next, their

floundering member clubs look in vain for leadership, direction and survival.

The spectre of closure hanging over one of our oldest and best loved clubs, Distillery, is indicative of the plight of football as a whole here, but particularly our senior clubs in the IFA’s flagship Carling Premier.

Yes, Raymond is correct in his observation of years of living beyond their means returning to haunt the clubs.

With Irish League clubs, it has always been a case of buy now, pay later.

And finally and inevitably, in the deepest of recessions, they have been presented with the bill — in Distillery’s case, a £65,000 rates demand, peculiarly dating back over 10 years.

How ironic again were a famous old club that miraculously survived the worst of the Troubles homeless, to be put out of business by the kind of bill they would love to have seen drop through their front door, had they possessed one.

Omagh Town gone, Coleraine saved at the 11th hour, Ards roaming the football desert like bedouins, Institute forced to sell the family silver in the form of their best players, whispers of more than just Distillery preparing to seek emergency advances of end of season prize money from the IFA to keep the debt collectors from the door.

How was it allowed to come to this?

Clearly clubs have been wreckless in their spending and creative in their accounting.

But where were the checks and balances from the IFA, the body supposed to govern football?

Where was the insistence on proper business plans, the assistance to put those in place alongside an imposed wage cap to protect the clubs from themselves?

How far would the £400,000 required to usher out Howard Wells have gone towards alleviating the current crisis in the Irish League?

And where was the kind of thinking that would have instantly switched the postponed Boxing Day games to this weekend to maximise holiday crowd-pulling potential?

Throwing money at the problem won’t cure the financial ills of the Irish League.

That will only help in the short term. Football needs a long-term survival plan that will only come with a change in the culture of misdirection at the IFA.

With desperately needed future funding, including that for the Windsor Park national stadium revamp, at risk amid an impending Sport NI review into IFA practices, surely now is the time for wiser heads, if there are any, in the Windsor Avenue bunker to see the folly of where football is headed and take action.

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