The following is the second part of an article I had previously planned to be included in a Lovely Left Foot project, which has since not come to pass. With some rewriting to make the overall content more current (the bulk was written a year or so ago), I present it now in several sections, which I will publish in the lead-up to the 2014 seasons kick-off at the beginning of next month.
The first part, on League Organisation.
The second topic is regards the aforementioned licensing procedure, by which clubs are awarded the right to play in the LOI or not. The procedure has come in for some criticism over the years, through the selective way in which primary and secondary licenses are handed out.
The case of Monaghan United, who won promotion to the Premier Division while spending a great amount of money, underwent the standard licensing checks (finances, stadium quality, etc), and received a top tier license, is a pretty sad one. Months after all that occurred, the club pulled out of the league citing heavy debt problems. No sponsors, bills to pay, bad results and poor attendance levels all played their part. But the question was put, and never rightfully answered, why were Monaghan United awarded a Premier license in the first place? Was the FAI’s overlook faulty? Did Monaghan not present accurate books?
It is clear now that Monaghan should not have been invited to participate in the Premier League that year on the basis of their weak financial position before the 2012 league started. If this case makes one thing plain, it is that a stricter licensing procedure in regards better regulated finances for individual clubs must be made a reality. If clubs cannot demonstrate to as reasonable an extent as possible that they have the capital to make it through a year of football, they should be turned down. The idea of a fund to help start-ups and newly promoted clubs stands, but that does not mean an easy gravy train for a club that is insolvent or never likely to not be.
They should not be given the benefit of the doubt and allowed several months to try and find nonexistent sponsors to tide them over. Clubs should be responsible enough to budget realistically, and intelligent enough to recognise the circumstances they will find themselves in if they spend more than they have. There are things the FAI can do to help but the clubs must shoulder some responsibility. The financial situation in Irish football is too fragile to operate on hope alone.
On the flipside of all that, there should be some form of punitive aspect for clubs who mislead the FAI in regards to their finances, though such things could be seen as a matter for the law outside of football. Monaghan United may have had one of the smallest budgets of a League of Ireland club, but that does not make them immune from criticism in regards their role in all of this. Some mismanagement of the club did take place, and the clubs higher-ups should answer for that.
The FAI, especially if it takes a more active role in helping clubs financially, has to institute some rules regards financial planning and living within means. No more Sporting Fingal’s can be allowed to live fast and die young. Responsible budgets, gradual expansion.
The FAI and its organisation have other things it could attempt to do. I know money to do any of the stuff I’ve mooted won’t appear out of nowhere: perhaps we could take it from the salary of FAI head John Delaney, currently being paid an absolutely criminal 366K a year (which is near twice as much as the Prime Minister of the country is paid). He has also overseen a period where the FAI finds itself in debt and forced to slash prize money to clubs because of it, yet seemed to want a pat in the back for cutting a measly 10% from his astronomical wage packet. And he is just one of many in the higher echelons of the FAI, who take home absolutely gigantic wages, while LOI clubs struggle. In fact, after his carry on in Poland, Delaney stepping aside would not be a bad idea.
Cost cutting in terms of salaries would not only help the league financially, but PR wise. The many fans of the LOI have, in general, a very poor opinion of its governing body, who are seen as overly-obsessed with the national side to the detriment of the club game, and stingy with money towards the same object. Playing up free match balls when prize money allocations are slashed is a perfect example. The FAI struggles to come up with clear statements regarding league structure for coming seasons, failed to sort out the quagmire that is Galway football for years, and has overseen the death of many clubs in the last decade.
The image of the FAI not caring enough about the LOI is one that will be hard to banish, and will only be so if that organisation decides to make the league its primary focus, both in terms of attention and money. The FAI leads, so it has to take the main role in any reform effort. Sadly, the meaningless lip-service and all too real abandonment that characterise the FAI’s relationship with the national league will likely continue.