Dundalk captain Brian Gartland is hopeful a brighter future lies ahead for the League of Ireland.
The experienced defender was part of a delegation of players to meet with Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross and his junior minister Brendan Griffin last week to discuss the future of the league in the wake of ongoing financial problems within the FAI.
Assured at the meeting that the FAI would not be allowed to fail, Gartland revealed that Ministers Ross and Griffin listened to the views of those present and agreed the league should be prioritised at long last after decades of neglect.
Giving his reaction on proceedings to The Argus, Gartland said: “There was a lot of positives in it.
“I suppose it sums up where we were that the government underestimated the weight, the size and the uproar of the League of Ireland. That was evident by the meeting before Christmas where they showed they weren’t very knowledgable about the League of Ireland.
“I like the fact that they called in the clubs and the PFAI to get that knowledge. They didn’t talk. They just had an open floor and said you tell us what is wrong.
“They’re going to have a meeting with UEFA and they wanted to know what was the best way to approach it, what they can ask of them and what can they tell them. I think through the hour and a half or two hour meeting everything was aired out or at least the main points anyway.
“We wanted to get the main point across which was the state Irish football is in because of neglect from the FAI. UEFA funding has gone to the FAI that was meant to go towards different areas whether that be women’s football, development, the league or the clubs. We don’t know where that money has gone and UEFA don’t know where the money has gone. Things like that were important to highlight but it’s good that we had our voices heard because we’re the main stakeholders of the game.”
The 33-year-old said it was important that clubs were assisted in becoming sustainable but said for the likes of him in the latter stages of his career he had suffered as a result of mismanagement of the league.
“People putting money into clubs are not getting bang for their buck in terms of a just and fair running of the league. You should be able to get sustainable clubs out of the league but maybe because of the neglect the league hasn’t been able to shine or grow.
“It has been money down the drain for some people and the same goes for the time put in by volunteers.
“It hasn’t been ran properly. From a players point of view, the last few years have been good to me at Dundalk but it’s only in the last two or three years that you’re on a decent wage that you can live off. It’s by no means anything better than standard jobs that my friends are in but for 10 years before that I was playing for expenses or part-time money. Every other player was like that.
“Had I not played football I would have had better money and maybe a better career money wise for my family, life or for mortgage reasons. Players have dedicated their lives to football but you have to think what could have been. They could have had better careers financially and success wise in terms of what Irish clubs can do in Europe if the league had been ran well.
“From that point of view, stakeholders have been left short so it’s nice that we’re now being heard. That’s a positive and the other is that the likelihood is that the FAI will be okay. The government will help and the League of Ireland will be central to football in this country going forward which would be a first because football abroad has always been the priority for the association here.
“They’ve always looked to get players abroad but why not get them to play here? If they go abroad and have a good career then brilliant and it will be good for our international team but let’s not rely on the outside. That’s a really good positive I think. It’s great for the league if it’s going to be ran well and going to be a priority.
“It’s a great opportunity for the League of Ireland and football in this country but there’s a bit of a mess to get through first and this meeting with UEFA. There are a lot of people angry with the past and looking for accountability and that’s right and just but we need to learn from the mistakes of the past and then look to the future.”
Gartland added that football had a huge role to play in local economies and in improving spirits within the community.
“If this town didn’t have the success of Dundalk FC over the last few years it would be a different town. It has everyone’s spirits up. For towns like Dundalk it is brilliant. Sligo is another where the club is the heartbeat of the community. We could go on forever about the socio-economic benefits but there’s an industry to be built there and hopefully now it will,” he said.
Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers believes an independent body needs to be formed to run the League of Ireland and ensure the domestic game here continues to grow.
The 38-year-old PFAI chairman made his comments in the wake of another bleak week for the FAI with Minister for Sport Shane Ross confirming on Wednesday that the association sought an €18 million bail out from the government on Monday.
With the possibility of the association entering into examinership, the concerns of League of Ireland players, staff and supporters were raised when the Minister said it was his guess that if the FAI goes, the league would too.
While Minister Ross and Minister of State Brendan Griffin later rowed back on their comments in a statement which said the insolvency of the association would allow clubs to “rebound quickly and fulfil fixtures”, they did admit that they would need to clarify this when they meet UEFA in the New Year.
Reacting to the latest crisis, Rogers – who as chairman of the PFAI represents around 240 of the 300 or so players in the league – said the latest revelations were “concerning” if not surprising.
“It’s concerning really to see what is going to develop because of the way the governing body has been ran for a number of years,” he said.
“It shows too the way the league has been treated by the governing body for years. The fans and supporters have been well aware of that because they’ve made their voices heard all over the country for a long time but it wasn’t until all this stuff came out that it really uncovered the actions of our former CEO and how the governing body has been mismanaged. The league has been mistreated within all of that as well.
“It’s obviously hugely concerning that the governing body is in the state that it’s in. We obviously need that to be rectified in order to support the leagues but the clubs themselves will not go bust because the clubs really don’t get all that much from the governing body as it is in terms of prize money and stuff like that.
“When you look at the way the FAI have handled sponsorship deals, TV deals or any sort of revenue that comes in in relation to the league, the league clubs don’t know what they’re worth so it will be interesting to see in the different forensic reports whether we get some light shed on that subject to see exactly what revenue the league is creating.
“For me, what the clubs and the league need to do is break away from the FAI and have some sort of loose affiliation with the FAI where they still look after officials and referees in order to maintain the national team.
The league should govern itself as a separate department solely responsible for promoting and running the league because the way it has been ran over the last 10 or 15 years just hasn’t been good enough,” he said.
While the league folding would be a worst case scenario, Rogers feels this cannot be allowed to happen due to the number of jobs and ancillary jobs created by it.
“When you look at Dundalk on its own and what it means to the community and the people, it would be incredible to think that that just wouldn’t be there,” he said.
“Football is embedded within the community in Dundalk and the surrounding areas and you look at all the jobs that come off the back of the club. It’s not just players but there’s office staff and all little spin-off jobs that come off the club around the town whether that be caterers, bus companies, printing companies or even media. To think that that would go would be a massive concern not only for the players but for everyone associated with the League of Ireland.
“The disappointing thing was that both Ministers said that the League of Ireland would go. That’s not the case but that’s the way it was painted so it’s disappointing that they weren’t informed. That was a mistake on their behalf and I know they’ve put out a statement to clear that up but they just weren’t prepared for a question on the League of Ireland.
“They probably thought they were there just to discuss the governing body but as you know it’s all the one. That was disappointing but the statement that has come out since gives a little bit of relief to us as players and all that are involved with the league.”
There are also fears that any repercussions from UEFA could lead to Irish clubs being expelled from Europe for five years. This is something that Rogers feels cannot be allowed to happen.
“The loss of European football if that were to come about would be a massive concern to all the clubs because that’s really where you can make your money,” said the Meath man.
“The prize money in the league is not really worth talking about especially when you factor in the affiliation fees to get in. Again, when you finish the season you have to tally up all the fines that you may have occurred during the season and depending on where you finish that prize money might not be worth a whole lot to you so European money is really where clubs can make a few quid throughout the season.
“It’s a massive source of revenue for clubs and it would be a concern for clubs if that was gone. You seen Waterford last year, they had budgeted to have European money and then their approach changed halfway through the year when that slot was taken off them. I’m sure Dundalk, as an example, have budgeted this year for European money to come in and if that were to be removed it would be a huge concern for the owners but I’m sure the clubs are well prepared at this stage and you’d be hopeful that things will resolve themselves and that sort of scenario won’t come into play.”
The one silver lining is that Rogers believes the bottom of the barrel has now been reached and is hopeful that a new era for Irish football can finally be welcomed in in 2020.
“I don’t really think there can be much more worse to come. It’s as low as it can be. I don’t really know how it can get any lower in terms of the governing body and the state that it’s in at the minute.
“There has got to be a massive rebuilding process there. Who’s to know what comes out of it because it looks like the government is going to have to get involved and UEFA are also going to have to play a role. A lot of extra people are going to be needed in order to put Irish football back in a healthy state and to start moving forward to do our business properly, invest in the game and get it running smoothly and properly with proper governing structures around it.
“Wednesday was heightened because of the reactions of people but I do believe the league will start as planned in February regardless of the FAI situation.
“I don’t see the FAI being liquidated. I think it will be resolved whether it be the government or UEFA who resolve it but I do think it will be trashed out and there will be some sort of contingency put in place. There’s obviously a very important meeting with UEFA in January but I think everything will go ahead.
“I’d like to see an independent body running the league. Obviously the clubs should have an input into it with a loose association with the FAI but you want a scenario where clubs’ opinions and voices are heard and I don’t think that has been the case in the past.
“You want someone to take responsibility to promote the league properly because across the board we have to show our league in a better light,” said Rogers.