History boys net rich reward with bumper Euro windfall
Call it a classic rags to riches Irish League story. While it be churlish to suggest that Crusaders are rolling in cash after their Champions League heroics, we are talking about fantasy financial figures when it comes to a Danske Bank Premiership club battling to secure a long-term future.
Ten years ago the Shore Road club were relegated for the first time in their history as their financial difficulties escalated but in desperate times - and thanks mainly to the willpower and dedication of their manager Stephen Baxter and a new board - they changed course, found calmer waters and have now reached the promised land of the Champions League.
For so long the Crues lived in the shadow of their richer neighbours across Belfast but now they have progressed in Europe's premier club competition for the first time, earning a cheque for £525,000.
The north-Belfast side are guaranteed £140,000 for making the first qualifying round and their victory over Levadia Tallinn has secured an additional £210,000.
Even if they lose in the second round to Albania's Skenderbeu Korce, the Crues will pocket a further £175,000, bringing the total sum to £525,000. But Crusaders, who earned £38,250 for winning the Danske Bank Premiership, believe their European journey is far from over and a third round tie would secure a further £280,000.
Crusaders board member Mark Langhammer said: "Due mainly to the work of the ECA (European Clubs' Association) the stratospheric Champions League incomes of the top mega-clubs, for whom it was designed, is beginning to trickle down to the smaller clubs and leagues.
"In the future, European qualification will become even more important in our League. In simple terms, the additional income will allow us to reduce our debt and to plan for growth ahead.
"We will be able to manage cash flows more smoothly, maintain investment in a competitive first-team squad, and also plan for the future.
"In particular, we will be able to invest in strength and conditioning programmes, in gym equipment as well as in developing planned schemes for improved facilities at Seaview and elsewhere.
"Credit to Stephen Baxter and his squad for another immense effort."
If Crusaders could progress to the Champions League third qualifying round, a possible encounter with Celtic awaits! Of course, in reality, the garden is never as rosy as people expect it to be as some of the prize money will go towards travelling costs, which include the use of charter flights and hotel accommodation. But the club's board are to be highly commended for their vision and devotion to the cause. Their only motivation is to see the club they love prosper and no-one on the board earns a wage.
The story about Irish League football, however, is always one of survival rather than living on millionaires' row and Crusaders will make hay while the sun shines.
Bills still need to be paid and as any supporter will tell you, the good times never last forever.
Irish League clubs have soldiered on despite being handed little grant aid and the current political stalemate at Stormont and upheaval at Sport NI fail to inspire confidence that more funding will be made available which makes Crusaders' Uefa cash even more priceless.
They are guzzling the finest champagne on the Shore Road.