Quo Vadis … FAI

BY Kathrin Kobus

Trouble was mounting at the end of 2019 for Irish football especially off the pitch. What has come to light in recent weeks and months makes for uncomfortable reading regarding the future of the whole organisation.

John Delaney was nearly 15 years on the very top of the organisation. A bit like Santa Claus he distributed gifts to football clubs throughout the country, our own Cambridge FC among them. The usual modus operandi went as follows: he presented a cheque in support of the relevant club combined with tickets for an upcoming friendly game of the national team. Small handouts of what was for him a day’s salary and an opportunity to fill seats at the Aviva. Most recently he had been at Cambridge FC’s 50th anniversary party at the end of October in 2018.

Fast forward five month and on the 24th of March John Delaney bowed under pressure and quit from the top position. Shortly afterwards, state funding of the FAI was suspended and has not been restored since. Delaney got the final push by the end of September 2019 after a summer of discontent laid bare a financial black hole.

Whoever did the accounts at the FAI had done a very good job, because one has to be very good in hiding the trail of where and how and when the supposed available money went down an invisible drain; and an apparent surplus in 2017 became at the end of calendar year 2019 a minus of €3.5 million and overall liabilities of more than €60 million.

Aviva Stadium, image by Gary Burke

The big question is: what conditions the Government will and can demand for the necessary cash injection, calculated at €20 million necessary to keep the FAI afloat. Because if the organisation were to go into liquidation that throws up the immediate problem for the EURO 2020 playoffs. Ireland travel to Bratislava on the 26th of March and play Slovakia. But if there were no FAI, the game might have to be conceded. 

More general meetings and go betweens will surely happen in the coming days.

The national SSE Airtricity league will start again in February, with Shelbourne FC hungry to return to the Irish top flight and revive derby matches against Shamrock Rovers, last year’s cup winners and runners up in the league.

Plus three group games and one round 16 game are scheduled for June in the Aviva Stadium with another set of problems regarding the closure of Lansdowne Road Dart station.

There is a spark of hope at least on the sporting side with Stephen Kenny a manager is coming in, who guided and led an Irish u21 team into playing attractive, scoring football on the international stage.

Fingers crossed for a brighter future of Irish football on and off the pitch(es), fields and stadia.