Dundalk FC chairman Bill Hulsizer has said the club will require grant supports to fulfil the long standing ambition of upgrading Oriel Park.
Qualification to the Europa League group stages has once again brought the dilapidated state of the Carrick Road venue into the spotlight, with Filippo Giovagnoli’s side unable to host home matches there as it fails to meet UEFA requirements.
With over €4 million income guaranteed from the club’s second group stage qualification in five seasons, fans had been hopeful that it would lead to a long awaited upgrade of a venue which has virtually remained untouched for more than half a century since a major redevelopment in 1966.
However speaking to The Argus at the weekend, Hulsizer admitted that club owners PEAK6 would be unwilling to cough up the full amount for an upgrade and would need financial support from one or a number of parties including Louth County Council, the FAI and Government.
“Would I love to see a Category 4 stadium half way between Belfast and Dublin? I absolutely would but do I think that we’ll win enough money at Dundalk to build a stadium in the next five years? No.
“We’ll make some improvements – we’ve already made a bunch – but our goal is if we invest money it’s to invest it in something that we’ll get a return on.”
While club owners PEAK6 have a current portfolio value of over $23.4 billion, Hulsizer said it would not make sense for the Chicago-based investment firm to pump money into a stadium project without having support behind them from various sectors.
“We need support to make it happen,” he said of any potential upgrade.
“Investing in a stadium is probably the worst thing a club can do because it’s just property and it’s not an asset unless it can make money. I don’t know that Oriel Park is situated where it can make money. It’s not big enough.”
Asked was there a ball-park figure to bring Oriel up to UEFA Category 4 standards, the chairman said: “If there is I don’t know what it is. “We’ve had architects look at it and we’re in the process now of getting other people to look at it.
“People look at it and say well they’re getting €3 million from Europe but let me tell you when all is said and done of that €3 million less than half will reach the coffers.”
While Hulsizer’s comments will undoubtedly come as a blow to many fans hoping for a long overdue stadium upgrade, he said the club had approached the FAI for support for a future upgrade project.
“The FAI is working hard to get a major grant to develop stadiums outside of Dublin and we have put our wishes and hat in the ring just like Finn Harps and Cork and others. I don’t know for a fact that either of them did but every team in the League of Ireland was asked to submit what their needs would be for improving the infrastructure.”
Dundalk FC chairman Bill Hulsizer has confirmed that current interim head coach Filippo Giovagnoli will be offered the job on a full-time basis after guiding the Co Louth side to the Europa League group stages.
The Italian was a shock appointment as Vinny Perth’s successor just 39 days ago but has confounded all his critics by guiding the Lilywhites to qualifier wins away to Inter Club d’Escalades of Andorra and Sheriff Tiraspol of Moldova. last month. The 49-year-old then repeated the feat of current Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny from four years ago by securing group stage football with a 3-1 win over Faroese side KÍ Klaksvik in the Aviva Stadium last night.
Earlier today Dundalk were drawn in Group B of the Europa League alongside FA Cup holders Arsenal, Rapid Wien of Austria and Norway’s Molde FK.
With over €4 million banked so far, Giovagnoli’s exploits have delighted Hulsizer and the club’s American owners PEAK6.
Now his reward will be a permanent contract offer, something the 49-year-old has insisted he has wanted since arriving in Ireland having previously been Director of Coaching at the Metropolitan Oval Academy in New York for six years.
“I’d be happy for him to be our coach full-time going forward,” Hulsizer confirmed this evening.
“I think it’s just a matter of negotiating a contract and seeing what he wants to do.
“I certainly can’t find fault with anything that he has done to date. I think his decision making has been superb.
“Our plan is to be in Europe every year. I can’t promise you that we’ll make it to the group stage every year but I can’t promise you we won’t either. Our feeling – Filippo’s, mine and the team’s – is that getting to the group stages is a great start.”
Hulsizer, father of PEAK6 founder Matt, admitted Giovagnoli’s appointment had been something of a gamble given his lack of experience of managing adults but he said he was delighted it had paid off.
“Life is like a turtle. You can’t get anywhere unless you stick your neck out.
“Filippo has done a great job so how can we or anybody else argue with him getting the job.”
Hulsizer, who said he toasted Dundalk’s victory over KÍ Klaksvik with a shot of tequila, said he and the board were delighted to have group stage football to look forward to.
“I’m excited about it and everybody on the board are excited about it. The owners are excited about it,” said the 77-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the players, the coaches, the staff and the people who administer the club for what they’ve accomplished in light of Covid-19 and everything else that has been thrown at us. It’s a fantastic achievement.
“We were in the Premier League when we owned part of Bournemouth so we’d know Arsenal very well and they’re a massive club. I just hope I can make the games.
“I’m working to find out is there a way I can come and not have to isolate for 14 days because I can’t do that with everything that is going on but if they tell me that I can do some tests and show that I’m negative then that’s fine but if not I’ll have to watch from here but it certainly would be thrilling to be there for these games.”
The chairman also confirmed that Dundalk would play all of their matches in the group stages in the Aviva Stadium.
“The balance of the Europa games, of which I hope there will be 10, will be played at the Aviva Stadium.
“The Aviva is a big plus for us and a big plus for Ireland because it’s an impressive, if underused, stadium,” said Hulsizer.
Dundalk FC chairman Bill Hulsizer has vowed that any big European pay day earned by his side in the coming weeks will go back into the club.
A 5-3 penalty shoot-out victory over Moldovan champions Sheriff Tiraspol on Thursday night means that the Louth men are just 90 minutes away from the Europa League group stages.
They will now face Faroese side KÍ Klaksvik in the play-offs at the Aviva Stadium on Thursday night with a €3 million pay day up for grabs for the winner.
Dundalk previously became the wealthiest club in the country on the back of their group stage run under current Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny in 2016, with American investors PEAK6 arriving a year later ahead of the 2018 campaign.
Asked what Europa League qualification would mean for a club that lost more than €1.2 million last year, Hulsizer said: “I don’t control the purse strings but I would imagine if we have a big pay day that much of it will get put back into the club and/or the League of Ireland. I don’t draw a line between the two.”
Asked if this meant investment on facilities, players and contracts, the 77-year-old said “yes”.
He added: “We have, from the beginning, said that is what we want to do.
“I can’t talk about what was here before we came but I know we have one of the better training facilities in the country. It wasn’t cheap but it has been a good investment.”
Hulsizer, father of PEAK6 founder Matt, was rumoured to have interfered with team selection under previous boss Vinny Perth but he denied this before paying tribute to new interim head coach Filippo Giovagnoli, the unknown Italian who has now won his first four matches in charges of the Lilywhites.
“In spite of what has been said I had very little to do with it,” said Bill.
“I wish now I could say that I picked the team and I told him who to play but I didn’t and I won’t.
“I’m thrilled about last night. I’m absolutely thrilled for Filippo. He has kept every promise he has made. “I’m thrilled for the team, I’m thrilled for the town. We understand how important it is for the town and for Ireland.”
Asked was he nervous watching the game, Hulsizer chuckled: “To say the least!
“We had a problem with the streaming to start and that just made it more nervous.
“I’m hoping that they win the next one coasting because I don’t know if I could stand two of them in a week.”
The chairman added that Europa League qualification would be a silver lining to a tough year for the club following the loss of groundsman and videographer Harry Taaffe to suicide in July.
“We’ve had a tough year. Remember we lost a really valuable asset in Harry Taaffe and it has hurt everybody.
“If there was a trophy that came with qualifying for the group stages then we’d be dedicating it to him but hopefully we can do it in his honour.”
Dundalk FC owners PEAK6 have denied recent claims that they had planned to move the club to Dublin.
Reports earlier this month suggested that the club’s American owners wanted to make the Aviva Stadium their new home ground with plans to transport supporters to games via train.
In a statement on the matter, PEAK6 also denied that they wanted to acquire the Dublin 4 venue, saying instead that they had offered to manage the stadium on the FAI’s behalf to make it profitable.
A statement from the Chicago-based company said: “There is no truth in saying we wanted to acquire Aviva Stadium. We did offer to manage the Stadium.
“The FAI is in pretty bad financial straits and has few assets. Aviva Stadium, even prior to this year, was a drain on the resources of the FAI. This year it will be worse because of Covid-19 although the government is paying the stadium €7 million over the next 2 years for the FAI.
“PEAK6 offered to take control of the management of the stadium and help the FAI, IRFU and the Irish taxpayers by making the Aviva profitable, useful, and a beacon to attract travel to the Republic. Unfortunately they rejected the proposal preferring to limit its use and force the Irish taxpayers to cover losses.”
The statement went on to say that it was never the intention of PEAK6 to move the reigning SSE Airtricity League champions to Dublin but they did admit to requesting to play a number of matches there in the event of upgrade works being carried out at Oriel Park.
“PEAK6’s only ask was for a train from Dundalk to the stadium for Dundalk fans and the number of games to be played there was only going to be 10.
“The reasons were numerous, providing activity in the stadium, providing a place for Dundalk to play during any refurbishing of Oriel park, improving the reach of the League of Ireland, etc.
“At no time was it suggested that Dundalk would move to Dublin.”
Elaborating on the statement, Dundalk FC chairman Bill Hulsizer – father of PEAK6 owner Matt – hit out at the FAI and IRFU for their failure to make the Aviva Stadium a profitable entity.
“We were informed that the IRFU had no interest in running the stadium at a profit and were content to have it available for their matches and had no interest in a profit. The letter came from the FAI and in fairness there was no contact with the IRFU.
“I noted recently the IRFU reaching out to the government for financial help because of Covid-19 and find it ironic the utilising of an asset to obtain cash is less acceptable than asking the Irish Government and the Irish taxpayer to bail them out.”
The FAI have refused to comment on reports that the American investment group tried to buy the Association’s stake in the Aviva Stadium.
The old Lansdowne Road was redeveloped by the FAI and IRFU with the Government paying €191m of the total €460m cost. The development has proved a hindrance to the FAI, however, and was a large reason why its debts stood at €62 million at the start of the year.
Dundalk FC owners PEAK6 had drawn up plans to upgrade Oriel Park prior to the lockdown of the country due to Covid-19.
While the plans did not meet board approval, chairman Bill Hulsizer revealed that work has been ongoing behind the scenes looking at options to improve the heavily criticised Carrick Road venue.
“That’s high up on the list,” Bill said, when asked where the stadium stood in his plans for the club’s future.
“Our commitment is long term. We’re trying to do some things for Co Louth and Dundalk town and hopefully after this virus is settled, we’ll get on with it.
“We had to put them on hold for a couple of reasons, none of which are really financial, but the man in charge of it had a personal issue and I made the decision to put that on hold while he had something to take care of. We’re now moving slowly because quite frankly we don’t know what the future holds or what is going to happen with Covid-19.
“At the moment everybody has to have a wait and see attitude.
“Do I think Oriel Park can be improved? Oh, absolutely. We’ve had designs done. They weren’t exactly what we needed and they weren’t presented the way we wanted but it was a good start. We have a committee that is actively looking into it.
“More than that, I can’t say much because everything is on hold right now but my desire is to have boys and girls from 12 down to six playing on those three pitches in the Lilywhite Development Centre. That’s not what we call it now but maybe we’ll rename it.
“It gives them something to do and it’s inside so they could play all winter long. We just have to do the detail but we’ve talked to the council and we will get it done,” he said.
As well as improving the ground, Bill also hinted at another facility which would cater for an improved youth structure at the club.
“We’d like to improve the capacity and we’d like to improve our commitment to youth,” he said.
“We have three indoor pitches inside in the YDC and we should have every young man and woman in there every weekend playing football. We’re looking to develop all of those things.
“We’re on the border with Northern Ireland and we’ve tried to promote a bunch of cross border things. We have a schoolboys’ league in Dundalk and I don’t think there’s enough connection with Dundalk FC. I think we’ve got better at it and we’ll get better still.
“There are lots of issues. We have four official teams in our underage group but I’d hope that by this time next year we’d have eight because the jump between U-13 and U-15 is a big jump. There are 14-year-olds that are men and 15-year-olds that are still boys and that’s a crucial time so if we can spend the money and make that gap more narrow then it can only be a good thing.”
Hulsizer said he was “flabbergasted” at the fact there were no municipal pitches in the Dundalk area.
“I live in a small town outside of Fort Lauderdale. I don’t know what the population is but we have at least 12 municipal pitches in my little town and Americans don’t play soccer apparently. Now that’s the past and it’s changing. I’m told more Americans are playing soccer now in Texas than football.
“If we want to develop football here then we should have places for the kids to play. If we wanted to have a schoolboy tournament with teams from Warrenpoint and Newry and other nearby areas, where would they play? We need more fields.
“We’re working on it and hopefully the county and the people will say ‘let’s do this’. I’d like to see Dundalk to be the centre of football in all of Ireland at every level. I’m a dreamer but I always say that if you’re going to dream, you may as well dream big.”
Asked would this be at Oriel Park, Hulsizer suggested it could be an additional venue.
“We don’t have enough time to have that kind of an event at Oriel Park. Oriel Park is used almost non-stop so there would need to be other places where the kids could play.
“Let’s say we took every club team within 25 mile between Drogheda, Newry, Warrenpoint etc. Let’s say that’s 30 clubs and we’re going to have a tournament involving them all. To play that over a three day weekend, how many pitches would you need? I’ve never organised one but I’ve been to many and my feeling is we don’t have enough pitches to do that.
“I worry sometimes too that, if we built them, would the kids use them?”
The 77-year-old said he was well aware there would be critics of his plans but said he was looking purely for an outsiders’ perspective at what he believed could be achieved.
“You need to give me a little slack because I don’t look at Dundalk like someone who grew up in Ireland. I have no pre-conceived notions of what it should be. I have only the background of being around the whole world and growing up in America with an Irish mom so I guess I’m the sum of all those inputs and I see things that maybe someone who walks down the streets of Dundalk every day doesn’t see but I love the town, I love the people, I love the team and I love football and the rest is to be determined.”