(Credit: Andy McDonnell)
Irish football has changed an incredible amount since the Christmas, a number of years ago now, that my Grandmother asked me what I wanted to do with my life. In a moment of honesty, I told her I wanted to run a football club. Her rather amused reply, accompanied by a chuckle, was that I’d have to try and win the lotto!
However, thanks to the efforts of a determined group of Cork City FC supporters, the club’s fans have been living that very dream for three years now – showing that you don’t need to have millions in the bank to progress in this game. History will tell the story of how FORAS (Friends of the Rebel Army Society) resurrected Cork’s oldest football club; what it won’t detail are the many bumps and very special moments along the way.
FORAS and Cork City are not unique, however. Supporters across this island of ours have been fighting to save and driving support for their respective football clubs for well over a decade now, while the roots of the Trust movement in Ireland go back even further.
Backed by European Commission funding and guidance from Supporters Direct Europe, plans are now afoot to gather together this wealth of experience and knowledge and share the very best governance practices being carried out in the League of Ireland today.
A Europe-wide Supporters Survey has been up and running online for the past fortnight (www.surveymonkey.com/s/
The results will inform both a Fans Weekend planned for November 10th and 11th in Cork and a Handbook, which will be produced specifically with a focus on encouraging greater responsibility and proper governance amongst Irish fans’ organisations and football clubs.
So, what does all this mean in practical terms?
Feedback on the Survey to date has been a mixture of interest, some apathy and a lot of frustration. The interest stems mainly from the fact that the vast majority of fans are hopeful this latest initiative might be the start of something meaningful and sustainable, especially with the weight of EC funding behind it. The small pockets of apathy, on the other hand, are primarily borne out of frustration and the desire to see the League establish itself on a far more stable footing.
In short: we all have the same primary objective - a strong, competitive League of Ireland with financially secure and responsible clubs raising standards year on year.
These developments will not happen overnight but what this Project does aim to demonstrate is that League of Ireland fans play a very important role within their clubs, a role that needs to be respected and cherished. Billionaire businessmen are not rolling into Ireland to save our clubs; instead, supporters are organising themselves and stepping in to ensure the long-term future of what are vital community entities.
When Monaghan United exited the Premier Division earlier this year, there was little talk about the number of jobs that were lost, the fans left without a senior club to support or the impact its demise would have on the local community and suppliers. Our clubs are of significant value - not only economically, but socially - and it’s time for League of Ireland fans to find their voice and start putting their solutions on the table.
Please take five minutes to fill out the ‘Improving Football Governance’ Survey here: www.surveymonkey.com/s/
Niamh O'Mahony is Project Manager of the 'Improving Football Governance through Supporter Involvement and Community Ownership' project in Ireland and is currently on the Board of Management at Cork City FC. She also blogs at: http://ballsandhandbags.wordpress.com