May 17, 2006

Why sport and economics can mix

Posted in Irish Independent · 7 comments ·

Many moons ago, fifty two years back to be precise, my Dad and a few other local lads founded Dalkey United. In its first year, the team won the Wicklow Cup and League. The fact that Dalkey wasn�t considered Dublin at all, rather it was sufficiently far away to be part of Wicklow, evidences how small pre-suburban Dublin must have been. Over the years, the club – which was put on the map by Paul Mc Grath – has been at the centre of the town�s life. My own 1980s schoolboy team weren�t up to much, but even so, when we were growing up, there was never any doubt that we would pull on the white and black strip of Dalkey Utd and march out proudly to be hammered by the likes of Rory O� Conner Park Celtic, Patrician Villas, Ballybrack Boys or the mighty Joeys of the �Noggin.

Fifty two years ago, when the founders decided that the town needed its own club, they wrote to Liam Cosgrave the local TD, who brokered a 99 year lease with Dun Laoghaire Corporation for the pitch at Hyde Road. The first home game was played on St Stephen�s Day 1955. Later, in 1962 � in what must have been an enlightened early sign of rapprochement – Dalkey United opened up its ground to Cuala � the local GAA. Both clubs continue to thrive.

Would that be possible today? Could a few locals, without any cash, sponsorship or clout set up a soccer club, get a ground and sign a long, secure lease? No way. Dun Laoghaire Corporation wouldn�t have the cash to buy the field in the first place and anyway, a developer would drive a coach, two horses and a few JCBs through any plans that would see such a valuable site �wasted�. So what happens to local amenities? They are getting elbowed out by the property Leviathan that stalks the land. Ask any of the amateur clubs and they will tell you getting players is not the problem but getting a local authority pitch is almost impossible because amateur sport, which generates no money, has to compete with construction, which yields a small fortune. Whether you have a local football pitch, a one hundred year old golf club or one of the oldest soccer clubs in the country, the land obsession continues to dominate the financial outlook for all sports clubs.

In recent weeks, we have seen this at Dalymount Park. Bohemians FC has decided to sell the historic ground in a move that will probably signal the beginning of a mass migration of all Dublin�s city soccer clubs. Dalymount Park has been the scene of many important nights in Irish soccer history. None more so than Wednesday, October 19th 1955 � two months before Dalkey Utd played their debut match – when another Dalkey man, Peter Farrell, captained Ireland against Yugoslavia. Farrell � the then captain of Everton � led out his men to a capacity crowd that had defied the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, who denounced the game from the pulpit and lobbied Eamonn de Valera to have the game called off. Mc Quaid was livid that Ireland would entertain a bunch of communist atheists like the Yugoslavs. In the event, the sinners trashed the saints 4:1. However, the evening proved that even in the oppressive 1950s, the ordinary football supporter had a mind of his own and that there was only so far Mc Quaid could push it.

My own favourite memory of Dalymount Park was Ireland against the World Champions, Italy, in February 1985. The considerably-more-than-capacity crowd spilled out onto the pitch and the likes of Paulo Rossi � the World Cup�s top scorer -was forced to share the dugout with local scallies who had bunked in. The look on the faces of the tanned Italian maestros at the state of Dalymount and us Paddies in general was priceless. We lost 2:1.

A few weeks ago, Bohs finally decided to sell out. The maths of the deal makes huge sense. The club will get a new stadium out in Castleknock off the M50 which will be built at a cost to the developer of 23 million euro, plus the developer will hand over 20 million euro more for their bank account. Dalymount was falling apart and ultimately, the members put the club before the ground. This deal, if it gets planning permission, will ensure that Bohs will be by far and away the richest club in Ireland. The two other Dublin clubs with prime location grounds, Shelbourne and St Pats, are also likely to sell out. The same is the case for Drogheda Utd and it would seem logical for all clubs that have decent grounds in the centre of towns around the country to do likewise.

So far, so good. The fans will get new 10,000 seater stadiums with top-of-the-range facilities. The clubs will be recapitalized and in many cases, will stave off bankruptcy, the developer will get his apartment blocks and home buyers will get apartments closer to town.

However, this must raise the big question over the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road. Given that the property market has gone ballistic in the past three months and if you use the sale of the Jurys Doyle site as a benchmark, the rugby ground must now be worth a fortune. There surely is a temptation on the part of Lansdowne Rugby Club and the IRFU to abandon plans to redevelop and to sign a long-term arrangement with the GAA for Croke Park. It could use the money to build a smaller stadium for Heineken cup games and Celtic league games. For the GAA it would be an extra, invaluable stream of income which could be ploughed back into the game. At the moment, there isn�t too much talk of this but doubtless it is being considered behind the scenes. For the GAA, presumably the cash that it will make from next year�s soccer and rugby games is already in the 2007 budget. As every business knows, cutting budgets is always difficult and the demands on the GAA to hold onto that extra cash on an ongoing annual basis will be enormous.

Money talks and money in sport talks loudly; combined with the irrepressible march of property speculation, it is not hard to foresee huge changes in the Irish sporting landscape in the years ahead. For soccer, the big one is getting an Irish team into some European league. The appetite is there. For example, two years ago, 28,000 turned up to see Shels against Deportivo de La Coruna at Lansdowne. 16,000 Irish people made the pilgrimage to Old Trafford last week to see Keano and plane loads fly to England every week to watch a league that has only four real teams and of course, half of Munster will be at Cardiff on Saturday. We like our sport and we want to see regular top class games � no matter what codes here. In fact many of us will turn up to all three major sports �soccer, rugby and GAA. In addition, we are prepared to pay for it. The migration of Bohs from Phibsboro is only the start.

Let�s hope that when the property guys do put their hands in their pockets for our remaining sporting citadels (and that includes possibly Thomond Park), that some of the cash trickles down to the local level so that the Dalkey Uniteds of the 21st century can be founded. Those who�ve played Saturday soccer here over the past twenty years have seen no improvement in facilities and the chances of the FAI spending any windfall sensibly seem remote. For those of us still getting changed in the car or on a windswept sideline, scepticism reigns. However, the Bohs move is the first positive thing to happen to Irish domestic football for a long time. Let�s hope it�s the beginning of a new era where economic, finance and sport merge successfully.

  1. Billy Mae

    It’s a shame to see the downtown area stripped of Dalymount
    Park. It is places that make a city.

    Personally I think that national organisations like RTÉ and
    UCD should move back downtown. They should easily be able to
    sell their reservations in D4, move downtown and have a
    large surplus.

    Of course that won’t happen. Next they’ll be moving the
    internet to a green feild site in west Dublin.

  2. Declan

    Is that the way it gone!
    Do you honestly think that by moving a club to the
    outskirts of a town or city it’s going to solve their

    Bohs and Shels have been elevated to professional status
    for sometime now. I’ve had the opportunity to visit both
    Tolka Park and Dalymount Park. It is true that their
    locations have excellent developement potential.

    Bohs and Shels only real asset is their location/stadium,
    this is the golden goose that could potentially provide
    long term sustainable revenue outside football.

    They are ideal venues that haven’t been properly tapped.
    Music Venues, Function Facilities, Tolka Park is somewhat
    limited but Dalymount still have fantastic potential.

    Now they are going to sell them, release the cash and where
    does that cash go? They essentially are amature, not
    professional so where will the cash go!

    Why do people refer to Old Trafford as the “Theatre of
    Dreams” it is due to the history of the stadium? What
    inspires fans?

    Companies spend billions branding products here we have a
    situation where a club will loose a part of their identity
    and the millions that was received will be spent on
    rebranding and recreating a new identity.

    All I can say is CONGRATULATIONS AND WELL DONE bohs! It’s a
    sad day to see a stadium that has a rich wealth of history
    associated with it being demolished for more Appartment!

    Yeats September 1913 springs to mind!

    “But fumble in a greasy till
    And add the halfpence to the pence
    And prayer to shivering prayer, until
    You have dried the marrow from the bone;
    For men were born to pray and save;
    Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,”

    What more can one say!

  3. tony mc coy

    like your thinking deco

  4. Paul Browne

    Interesting comment on the distorting effect of the property
    market on all aspects of the country.

    At a recent Enterprise Ireland event
    the comment was made that a lot of startup technology
    companies are starved for both capital and business
    expertise as all the attention is elsewhere.

  5. Leonard

    I think that there should be a push for a Soccer Celtic League to develop soccer in this country.

    Scotland and Wales are likely to be interested in developing their soccer on similar lines. The population of Ireland can only support about 4 teams that would have any chance of success in the European leagues.

    The FAI should be looking to follow the example of the IRFU, and establish 4 professional provincial teams. These would be playing regularly against the big teams of Scotland and Wales. How could fixtures like Munster v Celtic or Leinster v Rangers not attract huge crowds?!

    Irish fans will support their provinces very quickly, as can be seen with rugby. Only a limited amount of fans feel any affiliation to Tolka Rovers or Shelourne, etc.

    The IRFU have shown the FAI the formula for success, I have no faith in it being followed any time soon though.

  6. FP

    Brilliant but depressing… the lack of our ability to do what your dad’s generation did says it all, especially now that the property charade has been exposed.
    Of course, the bottom line for Irish football at its top level is that it needs supporters, not property deals. Who do you support?

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