herald

Wednesday 12 December 2018

broken, bust and into injury time - league's DEBTS EXPOSED

FUTURE: As the transfer window closes on a €1bn spending spree in the Premier League, we investigate how the top Irish clubs are beset by crippling debts

Many of Dublin's League of Ireland (LoI) football clubs are struggling under historic debts and falling revenues, with some in a perilous financial situation, an investigation by the Herald can reveal.

It comes as Shamrock Rovers manager Pat Fenlon has called for clubs to sit down and form a collective strategy, following a number of embarrassments in the Irish league.

Clubs in the British Premier League have this week spent a record of more than €1bn on player transfers in the recent window.

The figure is a far cry from League of Ireland clubs in and around Dublin - which attract a fiercely loyal support but nothing like the money raked in by some foreign leagues.

Debts

An analysis by the Herald of the most recent account filings and financial information for the clubs around Dublin has shown that:

l Bohemian FC's balance sheet was insolvent in 2012, following a valuation of home ground Dalymount Park, in Dublin north.

l The company that runs St Patrick's Athletic FC, with net liabilities of €3.4m in November 2013, is heavily dependant on the support of its ultimate owner, millionaire developer Garrett Kelleher.

l Shamrock Rovers FC's balance sheet appeared strong with net assets of €639,425, but the club has said like others in the league, generating revenue is a problem.

l Shelbourne FC, one of Ireland's most successful ever clubs, is facing debts of between €7m and €8m as it battles to get back into the top flight.

l Just outside of Dublin, Bray Wanderers made a loss of €83,946 for the year to November 30, 2013. The club had liabilities of €202,898 and had accumulated losses of just under €1.1m.

l University-based UCD AFC are not registered as limited company, so the club's finances are not publicly available.

The stark reality of the fragile finances of clubs in the League of Ireland came into focus when a crucial Dublin derby tie between Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians was called off last month.

When the referee was dissatisfied with the condition of the penalty spot at Dalymount Park, the crowd of 3,500 - close to capacity - were told there would be no game.

Bohemians said the cost of the cancellation could run to thousands of euro and the response shone a spotlight on the finances of Irish football.

Then, late last month, Shamrock Rovers manager Pat Fenlon called for a meeting of the league's clubs following another embarrassing cancellation.

On that occasion, a Shelbourne and St Pat's FAI cup match was called off due to a floodlight problem at Tolka Park.

After the incident Fenlon said he understood that financial issues tie clubs' hands but was deeply frustrated by the image problem it creates for the league.

He thought leadership was required to organise a group discussion.

"At the end of the day, it's a nightmare for everybody," Fenlon said. "It shouldn't happen, but it does happen. That's the disappointing thing."

He added: "We're not recruiting new supporters. They'll look at it and think 'why bother?' if things like that (cancellations) happen. That's where it needs leadership."

Many of the problems faced by the clubs are a hangover from the boom years, such as the downward estimate of Bohemian's Dalymount Park and failed plans for Shelbourne's relocation from Tolka Park.

The clubs have also spoken about the trouble in attracting spectators through the gates.

The last number of years have seen the near complete collapse of some League of Ireland teams, such as Cork City, which eventually arose from the ashes in 2010.

Other smaller clubs, such as Kildare County FC and Dublin City FC vanished completely.

Clubs that spoke to the Herald were confident going forward that the various difficult financial situations could be resolved.

Supporters

In the case of Bohs, a spokesman said that it was likely that any new evaluation of Dalymount would increase significantly with the recent recovery in the Dublin property market.

The club has also been operating on a break-even basis.

A spokesperson for St Pat's said that the board were focussed on qualifying for European competition "which is worth a substantial amount to the club".

Bray Wanderers have begun moving to a supporter-owned model, which has had some success as clubs like Shamrock Rovers.

hnews@herald.ie

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