The FAI & The Glasgow Derby – The Miserable Years

by | Jan 2, 2020

Fail-Ure

It is bad enough for a football club to go bust. But an entire Football ASSOCIATION? Well, that prospect looms large, as the fall-out from the unravelling of John Delaney’s Football Association of Ireland (FAI) career continues.

The FAI held their reconvened AGM last Sunday, in Dublin’s four-star Citywest Hotel, a somewhat inappropriate venue for them to confirm their current €62m liabilities and adjacency to insolvency. The AGM ‘began’ on 27th July, in a FIVE-star hotel, an entirely appropriate venue for them to hide their adjacency to insolvency. But they could not produce that vital component of a 2019 AGM, the 2018 accounts, because, the then-president Donal Conway told delegates, of “the well-publicised issues that have arisen over the last number of months and the investigations that are ongoing.”

As noted in these pages, and to no great surprise after said “well-publicised issues…and the investigations that are ongoing,” the accounts revealed this adjacency to insolvency, a far grimmer financial picture than Delaney had painted throughout his tenure (with other leading FAI officials holding his palettes, mentioning no names because that would be unfair on Conway).

Pertinent questioning actively discouraged during FAI AGMs under Delaney. At the very least, Sunday’s meeting was more open in this regard. But it could scarcely not have been, despite the presence of two solicitors, keeping watch for potentially defamatory content in any questions or statements (although how Delaney could be defamed after all that we know he has done isn’t immediately obvious unless farmyard animals are involved).

Chartered accountant Paul Cooke, FAI vice-president and “executive lead,” (no, me neither) re-stressed the true financial picture in a post-AGM press conference, albeit seemingly spelling one of the words wrong. He said the failure of “conversations with our stakeholders,” mostly organisations which could lend them the proverbial fiver-til-Friday, would mean “the dissolvency process could happen.” In other words, “examinership,” Ireland’s equivalent of administration, or liquidation.

Cooke bluntly revealed liquidation’s “most severe consequences,” including “no international friendlies” (hooray, some might cry) and “at a minimum, uncertainty about League of Ireland clubs’ participation in Europe.” And he undermined his one reassuring note, “examinership means we would get protection from our creditors,” by immediately citing the necessity of “a viable financial plan for that.” That sound you can hear is the collective eye-rolling desperation of FAI-watchers worldwide.

After the AGM, the FAI board apologised “to the hundreds of thousands involved with Irish football at all levels of the game, to the Irish public and to FAI staff.” Meanwhile, having previously said that “the apology thing doesn’t weigh with me” because “I don’t think it’s a particularly meaningful act,” Conway told the AGM that he’d “stood in front of staff and expressed my regret (and) culpability and I’ve done all that before.” And only afterwards did “the clear message from our delegates” sink in, forcing him to “apologise to all our stakeholders for the mistakes of the past.”

But Conway wasn’t “going to address” accusations by FAI auditors, Deloitte, that the FAI “misled” them, adding intriguingly that this “could be played out on another platform.” Of course, Deloitte, by definition, failed as auditors, by signing off on 2016 and 2017 FAI accounts which were plain wrong. But their two representatives at the AGM refused to answer questions, leaving delegates to ponder, as the Irish Independent newspaper’s Ken Early wrote: “why is it that my small business is audited in granular detail, yet year-after-year Deloitte accepted fat fees, estimated by Cooke at about €70,000 in a “normal” year, for signing off on FAI accounts which have proven to be a sham?”

Deloitte’s Richard Howard said they had received “representations from the board that all relevant information has been provided to us,” but now believed that some “relevant information” wasn’t. To the increasingly amusingly cynical Early, this “sounded like an admission that auditors can detect wrongdoing in all cases except those in which people are trying to do something wrong.” And he wondered “why it should cost so much to obtain a certification that apparently proves so little,” concluding that “maybe only an auditor can explain.”

The AGM build-up was fraught. Sports minister Shane Ross told the Oireachtas (parliamentary) sports committee (OSC) on 16th December that the FAI wanted an €18m government bail-out, a request confirmed at the AGM. Cooke suggested that “what was said in the Oireachtas will not help the recruitment process” for four independent directors recommended by a June governance review. But anyone competent would surely want to know the FAI’s liabilities before even considering such a role. Indeed, the FAI told Ross two days earlier that four identified candidates wanted exactly that.

The FAI also whinged when Ross confirmed that the “KOSI report,” sent to Gardai last month, had concluded the FAI “is not fit to handle public funds” and that its full publication “could have serious implications for any criminal proceedings subsequently brought.” But the FAI have twice refused to attend OSC hearings and seem keen to scapegoat Ross for their inactivity, claiming that they will happily implement governance reforms AFTER a financial solution, while Ross wants that chronology reversed.

Attempts to get key stakeholders together in one room continue. Cooke spoke post-AGM of “a partnership approach between ourselves, our banks, Uefa and the government.” Ross added “trade unions,” as FAI staff are represented by Ireland’s largest, the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) and staff remuneration will inevitably become an issue if insolvency looms.

Uefa are meeting the government in Dublin on 14th January. But they told the ever-inquisitive Sunday Times (Irish Edition) before Christmas that they were “not a financial institution, and therefore cannot (be a) guarantor for the FAI’s debts.” And while the FAI could sell its stake in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, which Uefa recently urged them to do, co-owners the Irish Rugby Football Union do not wish to become sole owners. And, Cooke noted, the Bank of Ireland “has a charge of €30m on the stadium, and we need another €20m. We would need at least €50m from the sale to realise anything.”

Ross doesn’t think liquidation or examinership are “viable” options, having previously gone all doomsday scenario with his “guess is that if the FAI goes, the League of Ireland goes the same way.” But the failure of any stakeholder talks makes Ross’s doomsday-ism more credible. And making Ross seem remotely credible is not generally considered ideal.

On Boxing Day, Ross tweeted a picture of himself holding a cooked goose, captioned: “Guess who cooked my goose. The FAI?” To which an early tweeted response was “200 of us uncertain that we’ll have jobs after Christmas and you post that!!!” Indeed, just then, the goose seemed the more credible government minister.

During the FAI-scandal reportage, it emerged that the FAI’s head of security was called Joe McGlue, the sort of name you’d make up for a comic novel about an organisation’s sticky (geddit?) financial situation. But you almost certainly wouldn’t have an entire sporting governing body going pop as an ending. Too far-fetched, that. Yet, as Cooks said: “we’re heading damn close to the red zone.”

Athbhliain faoi mhaise doaibh, Irish football fans?

Glasgow gestures…

I write plenty about Celtic/Rangers matches. So it would be remiss of me not to congratulate Rangers on their first-ever win at Celtic Park.

It was thoroughly deserved and served justice after the goal by Edsonne Oddouard (copyright Sky’s Andy Walker). If only there was some way video assistance could be used to rectify such clear and obvious refereeing mistak… Erm…anyway. There was plenty of good football, too, unlike so many such games. Even Celtic played some. Not much, mind. The ugly side appeared too, naturally.

Ryan Kent’s “gun-toting” celebration at Celtic fans after his goal was baffling, although it’s ugly intent seemed clear. Great goal. But, you know… While Alfredo Morelos’s throat-slitting gesture after being sent off typified his still over-riding mentality. Having shown good qualities in the game, he seemed to think he had to redress the balance somehow. Rangers’ explanation, “a gesture used commonly in South America to indicate quite simply that something is finished,” insults even their own intelligence. Google “throat-slitting gesture Fifa trial” for football-related proof that that’s horseshit.

Perhaps fearful that Morelos’s gesturing may result in future suspension, it is being suggested in mitigation that he was provoked by chants of “orange bastard” and “hun bastard” during the game, Celtic fans’ version of the crap that always spews from the stands on such occasions (see “fenian bastard” and “taig bastard” for details).

Morelos was also grabbed in his unmentionables by Celtic’s Ryan Christie during the game. A year ago, almost to the minute, Christie suffered such a land-grab by…Morelos. The referee then, John Beaton, said he saw it and didn’t even give a free-kick. Thus no further action was taken by the Scottish FA. Christie has been cited by the SFA for violent conduct, despite Sunday’s ref Kevin Clancy seeing the incident and, as a result, giving a free-kick. Christie faces a potential two-match ban. So, remind me, why ARE Celtic fans “paranoid”?.

Meanwhile, and more seriously, a Rangers spokesperson told the media that “we believe Alfredo Morelos was racially abused.” If he was racially abused, the perpetrators should be identified, charged and flung out of Celtic Park for good. And those making the claims should fully co-operate with that process, with the evidence which has led to that belief.

Glasgow derbies. Dontcha just love ‘em? No.

AND FINALLY…

2019’s late football stories were typical of 2019. Plenty to admire. But plenty more to abhor. So, happy New Year to the admirable. The abhorrent can **** off.