The conversations about how to improve our league will probably never cease. Everyone has their own opinions about what could save our game. For me, it is all in one word: Investment.
Understandably, there has been enough horror stories about financial strife down the years to repel any potential investors, but if things were handled differently, could success bloom?
A little investment could work a minor miracle for some clubs; something as simple as a business sponsoring a club’s jersey.
The deceased Sporting Fingal and Monaghan United cited a failure to gain sponsorship as a huge cause of their crumbling and Waterford United is singing a similar depressing tune. The business could work closely with the club to achieve mutual gain (vouchers for discount on their product with match tickets, for one example.)
Investment in facilities would help get people in there; again, something simple like putting a cover on the away section at my beloved (but frankly deplorable) Oriel Park. Why not try warm soup in the shops, something for the kids to do at halftime, anything to make a stadium a more enticing place to be?
Investment in grassroots would be perhaps the most important place to take a risk in. Proper training pitches and qualified coaches would significantly improve the quality of our product.
Sign these players down to proper contracts. Then if the more promising talents do move on, English clubs will be forced to part with some of their bottomless pits of cash. We don’t quite need a Roman Abramovich to come in and spend millions. We just need to start small and spend right; unlike the boom years, when some players were on up to 4 grand a week and most club’s budgets were completely unsustainable.
Money has drifted around our league before. Before Match of the Day arrived and turned our heads, a league of Ireland game’s attendance would regularly be up to ten times what it is today. It doesn’t appear that much of that cash was invested into the league. More recently, news materialised that FIFA paid John Delaney 5 million in ‘shut your mouth’ money after the handball incident which cost us a chance at World Cup qualification. Yes, we know that most of that paid for Lansdowne Road refurbishment. But wouldn’t it have been nice if a little, just a little bit had been spent on the league?
My cherished Dundalk FC is aiming to win their third title in a row this season. Success would grant us a prize of 110,000 euro. The prize money combined from three league winning seasons will still fall short of what John Delaney earns in one year.
If the prize money for the Setanta Cup was a little enhanced, would Linfield and Cliftonville have been so quick to opt out? Interest in the tournament inevitably diminished once the North’s highest profile teams withdrew and a united Ireland league (which would also solve a host of problems) seems further away than ever.
Qualification for the Champion’s League group stage could be the holy grail. 20,000 people flocked to Lansdowne to watch the great Shelbourne team of 2004 come so close. Had they qualified, they would’ve met eventual champions Liverpool and had quite a tasty pay day. As we discovered, Shelbourne’s books didn’t quite add up and look what has tragically become of the once great club. If a little money was invested in the right places, I don’t think our current champions are a million miles away from achieving that dream.
If teams from Cyprus or Kazakhstan can pull it off, why can’t we?