Make no mistake about it — Crusaders’ progression to the Setanta Sports Cup Final is one of the greatest fairytale stories in the history of Irish League football.
Third showdown ensures financial bonus at seaview Future bright: Colin Coates, the Crusaders captain, scored the winner against Sligo
This is a football club that had to fight its way out of the Intermediate League and then came perilously close to drowning in a sea of debt.
There were even doubts as to whether any Crusaders player would kick a ball at all this season.
But now the Crusaders finger is hovering over the button that says jackpot.
While the club still has bills to pay, it has cleared its historic HMRC debts which, totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds, is an extraordinary achievement.
Now the cash is suddenly rolling in thanks to the revenue generated by the club’s artificial surface being made available for use seven days a week, but mainly by the astonishing performances of the management and players.
Three Irish Cup Final appearances in four seasons and now a Setanta Sports Cup Final showdown with Derry City has contributed to a remarkable transformation in the club’s financial health.
An Irish Cup Final appearance guarantees a cheque of at least £18,000 plus gate receipts, though some of that money, as well as from the IRN-BRU Cup victory, is returned to the IFA as money owed to the association.
However, the Crues’ Setanta Cup success represents the richest chapter in their history in terms of prizemoney.
The club will pocket a cheque of £25,000 for reaching the final but, as chairman Stephen Bell said after the sensational semi-final win over Sligo Rovers, “You mean £40,000.”
That was a tongue in cheek reference to the sum of money the winners will grab, though the Crues players are entitled to believe that anything is possible after their heroics at the Showgrounds.
Factor in win and draw bonuses, gate receipts — with a bumper crowd at the final expected — and knock on sponsorship deals and the jackpot figure could be in excess of £60,000. That’s a welcome financial shot in the arm to a club that has battled bankruptcy. The Irish FA has introduced a new wage cap to curb the obscene wages handed out to players but that was never going to have any relevance to a club that has, as their manager Stephen Baxter admitted, been “shopping at Lidl, not on millionaires’ row.”
And looking at the cold hard figures, Crusaders should not be rocking a team like Sligo Rovers. The Airtricity League leaders enjoy a players’ budget of around £1m while the Crues’ budget set aside for the players, management and coaching staff is around £180,000.
Rovers are a classy full-time side, boasting arguably the best squad of players on the island so no wonder the 300 Crues fans who made the long journey to Sligo went home with no regrets.
Of course, there could always be a few financial icebergs struck in the years ahead but for now the club is fully entitled to toast what is, potentially, the greatest and certainly most lucrative season in the team’s history.
As Crusaders treasurer Mark Langhammer noted: “Sligo’s budget is around 600% greater than ours, more than six times bigger.I think that puts in context the team’s achievements.
He added: “In the last three or four years people can see we have invested in our facilities and youth set-up.
“That’s the future of this club as we look to unearth the next Colin Coates or Chris Morrow. Bringing in the 17 and 18-year-olds is the way forward for us and you get a buoyant feeling when you see the players, such as this current squad, come through the system and perform like they did in Sligo.”