While most football fans understand what happens on the pitch, fewer understand what happens on the tactics board, and in the mind of the manager. What even fewer people know about is what happens in the boardroom. It’s so often that the players and management get the credit they deserve, but very little appreciation is paid to the men who run the club behind closed doors. Following the recent withdrawal of Monaghan United from the Airtricity League, Shelbourne F.C. Chairman Joe Casey gave us a rare insight into the difficulties faced by board members, and revealed his thoughts on the Monaghan United situation.
As far as chairmen go, Joe Casey has probably been through the mill more times than he would care to remember. From struggling to put together a starting XI in 2007, to the dizzy, yet vaguely familiar heights of the Premier Division, Casey never once gave up on his club. A role model for anyone who wishes to show their passion for the club they run, Joe oversaw the complete destruction and resurrection of Shelbourne Football Club. It is perhaps this very reason why Casey has such sympathy for his counterpart, Jim McGlone. Joe was quick to highlight that the Chairman’s job is extremely difficult, and the job Jim McGlone did is not to be discredited.
“A lot of responsibility lies on a Chairman’s shoulders without any rewards. It is not like the English system whereby the Chairman would take a salary. In Ireland it is a voluntary roll which in many clubs doubles up as the CEO. Jim did a good job in Monaghan but ultimately the times we are in caught up with him.”
While the day-to-day running of a successful club is difficult in itself, to even consider entering a football club into senior competition is a risk in itself.
“Running a football club is a lot harder than anyone realises. The crowds are simply not taking to the product for whatever reason and without crowds there is no money, and competing at this level centres around money or more so around the lack of it. You prepare a budget at the start of the season with a lot of hope in the income section but invariably crowds don’t materialise, sponsorship comes up short, overheads remain the same or in some cases increases and before you know it you are in trouble. Some costs are impossible to legislate for, e.g. fines, pitch damage, injuries, Garda costs etc. Keeping within the boundaries of licensing and adhering to all the rules of the Participation Agreement can be very difficult at times especially for part time clubs running mainly with Volunteers.”
Fingers are being pointed left, right and centre regarding the withdrawal of Monaghan United from the Airtricity League, but ultimately, Joe admits, every club signs up to a Participation Agreement, under the same rules, and that the economic downturn is the real villain in all of this.
“We all knew the rules at the start of the season and whether we like it or not we all signed up to the Participation Agreement so in that respect I can’t blame the FAI. I do feel however that there hasn’t been as much input by the Association into areas like marketing this year; mainly due to the cut backs in Abbottstown. I wouldn’t blame Monaghan too much either. Circumstances have gone against them; not being able to get a shirt sponsor being the main one and poor attendances being another. Monaghan did not start the season with any less optimism than the rest of us and certainly did not go out with the intention of finishing up where they are now. The current economic recession is hitting us all. None of us are immune to this beast.”
When asked what he thought could be done about this constant feed of economic crises that seem to arise in the League every year, Casey had a far more measured solution.
“We, as clubs, need to be far more inclusive with each other. We need to pool information, trust each other more, consolidate approaches to problems which affect us all and work together rather than against each other. We should only be in competition for ninety minutes; after that we should be all rowing in the same direction with the same goal, all of course assisted by our Association who in the main has good people at the heart of it.”
As it stands, the minimum operating cost for the year to run a League of Ireland club is nineteen thousand euro. If a side finishes in fourth place in the Premier Division of the League of Ireland, their prize money accumulates to fifteen thousand euro. This, in short, basically means that unless you finish in the top three places in the top tier of the Irish footballing ladder, you make an operating loss. Joe Casey underlines just how unfair he believes this to be.
“Of course it’s not fair. The prize money has dropped considerably over the last couple years. Unfortunately wages, heat, light, insurance, rates, pitch maintenance, transport etc do not reduce just because you are placed further down the league. In fact it’s worse because these costs are fixed while at the same time gate receipts are reducing. I firmly believe the prize money for last place in the league should be at least the cost of participation in the league; €19,000. Referee fees are also far too expensive in my opinion and should be adjusted to take into consideration the times we are living in.”
Even though all these troubles seem to hang over every single League of Ireland club, regardless their stature or their league position, one thing remained remotely clear. Joe Casey and his fellow chairmen may have difficulty, but it’s a difficulty they openly accept, because they care about the club they’re in control of. Joe’s final comments were short, sweet and somehow, seemed to contain advice suitable to give to the entire nation, and not just those who have lost their football club this week. “Keep the chin up; better days will come around again.”
Andrew joined Extratime for the 2010 season and covers all the on-goings down in Limerick. Having first experienced the League of Ireland in 2002, Andrew became hooked, even at such an early age. He is currently studying English and New Media at the University of Limerick. You can contact him via Twitter @Cunneen92.