John Delaney & The FAI: Not Lending Credibility

Mark Murphy has had the song ‘Delaney’s Donkey in his head for over a fortnight. Here’s why…

For many reasons, John Delaney’s resignation from his €360,000-per-annum Football Association of Ireland (FAI) chief executive (CEO) role is not yet the untrammeled party-starter his many critics had hoped.

The Times newspaper’s Garry Doyle noted, “Just when it looked like he was heading out the door, it turns out it was to an adjoining room,” as Delaney immediately accepted a previously non-existent FAI executive vice-presidency. By then, though, revelations had begat revelations, for six days, about Delaney’s financial relationship with his employer. And the FAI has been forced to submit to truly independent scrutiny, as revelations continue.

The revelations began on St. Patrick’s Day when the Sunday Times newspaper’s Mark Tighe revealed that Delaney gave the FAI a €100,000 ‘bridging loan’ on 25th April 2017, to cover an (unspecified) “short-term cash-flow issue.” The loan was repaid on 15th June. At first, you might think ‘that was nice of him.’ But Delaney had failed to injunct the paper into non-publication, a last-gasp High Court action, despite Tighe contacting him about the loan on St. David’s Day, 1st March.

Delaney’s lawyers asserted that Tighe’s tale was told using documents from Delaney’s ‘in-camera’ (private) divorce proceedings. However, High Court judge Anthony Barr was “satisfied” that the government-part-funded FAI’s “finances and any payment and repayment to its chief executive” were sufficiently in the “public interest” to over-ride privacy concerns.

Tighe’s 24th March tale concerned Delaney living in “houses rented by the FAI for much of the past decade,” costing “the cash-strapped association” €3,000-a-month. Neither the loan, nor the rent payments appeared in FAI accounts. And on Sunday, Tighe revealed Delaney’s €300-a-day allowance when “on-duty” as a €160,000-a-year elected Uefa Executive, and how he and the FAI are promoting a floodlight-funding scheme for clubs, involving US-owned company, Shared Access, managing directed by Paul…Delaney. John’s brother.

Delaney is familiar with FAI-based financial controversy (https://twohundredpercent.net/ireland-god-appointed-kenny). But Tighe’s revelations continue to astound.

On 14th January, the Irish Sun newspaper’s Craig Farrell and Neil Cotter reported that Delaney “sought early access” four years in-a-row to the FAI’s €2.7m annual funding from Sport Ireland, the statutory authority for Irish sport’s ‘sustainable development,’ a timespan which included Ireland’s lucrative Euro 2016 finals appearance. Such requests aren’t improper. But Delaney’s eagerness for early Sport Ireland funding (which, it was revealed last week, he had this year too) indicated financial troubles, which contradicted his upbeat, self-aggrandising contemporaneous assessments.

In response, the FAI detailed the loan and its repayment and confirmed that Delaney’s 2018 “UEFA remuneration” was “donated back to the FAI on a voluntary basis” (nice of him…again). Delaney said the loan “had no impact” on the FAI’s “financial position or performance” that year. The Euro 2016 windfall was “utilised…as outlined in the financial report.” And after “regular meetings with our director of finance…all items arising are conveyed to our board. This was the case in 2017 when I acted in good faith for the benefit of the FAI.”

So, the board should have known about the loan, though it wasn’t in FAI accounts. But Sport Ireland said they hadn’t been “notified at any stage in 2017 about any apparent material deterioration in the FAI’s financial position.”

Farrell and Cotter revealed that of Ireland’s three main sporting bodies, governing soccer, rugby and Gaelic Games, only the FAI requested early Sport Ireland funding in 2018. Delaney wanted half of their grant in mid-January. Whereas the Gaelic Athletic Association had to chase their first 50% before receiving it in October. The Sun duo (mischievously?) added that Delaney’s loan was repaid one day after the FAI got the first 50% of its 2017 grant…the very day Delaney was into Sport Ireland for early access to the next 25%. In June, remember.

Government TD (MP) Noel Rock, an Oireachtas (parliamentary) Sport Committee member, smelt a rat: “The timeline is remarkable. It possibly means taxpayer’s money was used to pay back a loan. The timelines make this hard to dispute.” And Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar thought it “a bit unusual” for “a body of that size, given its operations and funding” not to “have banking facilities that would have provided for a loan.”

The FAI were anxious to ‘explain’ all to Sport Ireland, sports minister Shane Ross, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) and the Oireachtas. Delaney was due in the Oireachtas on 10th April, and still is, despite his job-change. And the FAI offered to address them a week early. But this was rejected as they’d not “to correspondence seeking info on governance and the loan.”

So, Tighe had to reveal that the €100,000 had met “FAI payroll costs,” and to explain that “at the end of 2016, billionaire businessman and honorary FAI president Denis O’Brien pulled his €900,000-per-annum commitment” covering “70% of (Ireland team management duo) Martin O’Neill’s and Roy Keane’s salaries. From 2017 the FAI had to pay (their) full salaries and they had both negotiated large pay hikes after (Euro 2016) qualifying.”

Media reports called the loan an “own goal” and/or a “bridge too far.” Daniel McDonnell’s excellent Irish Independent feature read as if Delaney was ex-Chief Exec. And on 24th March, he suddenly WAS. The FAI’s 1900-word statement said the board had decided, unanimously, that Friday, to implement the recommendations of a structural review by Jonathan Hall of imaginatively-titled sports industry consultancy Jonathan Hall Associates. But Hall, governance director at world-class governance model England’s FA from 2004-2008, was only commissioned in February,

This led Rock to wonder in Dail Eireann, Ireland’s parliament, last Thursday how “within six weeks, a report has been produced in its entirety, no redrafting required, and its contents acted upon by a unanimous vote of the board, culminating in a brand-new position for John Delaney, passed by a unanimous vote.” Given that the FAI has “so far not even responded to our committee in looking for that report” and its terms of reference, Rock concluded: “This absolutely stinks.”

Hall called the executive vice-presidency “a specific defined role” covering “international matters and special projects” which Delaney would “step into” to “allow Irish football to continue to benefit from his extensive football experience and contacts across Europe and the world.” This actually made (some) sense, though the role’s creation also, handily, let Delaney keep his Uefa job/salary, to which only domestic executives are eligible.

FAI president Donal Conway, apparently Delaney’s PR-guy for the day, said Delaney would “utilise his vast experience and connections in the world of football,” adding that “the Aviva Stadium will host four games at the Euro 2020 finals thanks to his influence at European level.” The statement said that new CEO would be stuck with “the other issues typically overseen by a Chief Executive of a national association,” before it melted into a paean to Delaney, Still, the FAI was “happy to discuss” these, already-implemented, changes.

Politicians across the political divides, including fabulously-named Sinn Fein TD, Imelda Munster, wanted answers to the myriad of questions raised by the FAI announcements. Most pinned their faith on the Oireachtas committee, to quote its chair Fergus O’Dowd, “getting at the facts and the truth.”

Reacting to the rent revelations, the Siptu trade union asked the FAI to explain why it “reimbursed its adequately-paid CEO” while the association enforced sweeping 10% pay cuts in 2012. Delaney had his salary cut from €400,000. But Siptu sports organiser Denis Hynes said that it seemed as if “in 2016, the FAI reimbursed (him) through a payment-in-kind on a large property.”

‘Football people’ wanted Delaney gone. Some had grudges. But all had valid points. Brian Kerr, sacked as Ireland boss seven months into Delaney’s CEO-ship, bemoaned Delaney’s “vice-like grip” on the FAI, noting darkly that “it can’t be coincidence that (the loan) came to the fore and six days later we are talking about a change in (Delaney’s) position.”

Ex-international Niall Quinn, the media’s ‘people’s choice’ as new CEO, insisted: “Under absolutely no circumstances will I be applying for the job. It reads as half a CEO role…because the departing CEO hasn’t departed. It’s a charade and I’m not buying it. If the role stays in its current remit, it’s for a gilly” (fool). And Jack Charlton’s predecessor Ireland boss, Eoin Hand, agreed: “It’s like a football manager resigning but staying in the dressing-room while the new man gives the team talk.”

The FAI board should tell Delaney to sod off forever. Whatever the salary cut, his executive vice-presidency will, in time, be more expensive.. But their position is fragile. On 18th March, the Times said a ‘whistleblower’ had brought “allegations about FAI governance” to an Oireachtas sport committee member. And this source will likely be better treated than ex-Sport Ireland director John Byrne, who, in 2011, claimed that the FAI has presented “illusory” income figures to Sport Ireland, and was investigated himself after the FAI complained, a vindictive response the High Court had to halt.

And, last Sunday, Tighe unpicked the FAI’s considerable debt-management woes since it “struggled to pay down €70m borrowings” for the 2007-2010 Aviva Stadium rebuild. Delaney’s ‘Vantage’ ten-year stadium ticket scheme tanked horribly after charging ‘Celtic-Tiger’ prices just as Ireland’s economy tanked horribly. However, Tighe noted that FAI debt was twice “sold on at a loss to lenders.” His “FAI sources” say it needs “government, Uefa or Fifa money…so it can discharge debts.” And FAI accounts “show a huge amount of short-term debt, repayable within 12 months.”

But Delaney’s position was fragile before Tighe’s tales. His ‘issues’ have transcended football. For example, he’s had the ‘IRA’ controversy to which top Irish football-figures (and “proud Englishman” Declan Rice) seem contractually-obliged. In 2014, he was videoed singing a ‘rebel’ song in a South Dublin pub. He initially denied it was him and threatened “legal proceedings” (sounds familiar) to stop publication (if you ‘sang’ like…THAT, you’d deny it in court too). Legal threats failed then, too.

And Delaney might not reach the Oireachtas. Fans’ nutjob ‘tennis ball’ protest at last Tuesday’s Ireland/Georgia actually worked, attracting much-needed, if unwelcome, wider scrutiny of the FAI. And Tuesday’s reportedly “anxious” FAI board meeting ran until uncomfortably shortly before kick-off, as divisions over Delaney’s future emerged.

However, he remains popular among Ireland’s oft-neglected grassroots…and not just for the money he’s brought. Tighe reminded us that Ireland’s oldest club, Clones Town FC, “was so taken by Delaney and the FAI’s financial support that it named its new ground John Delaney Park in 2013.” And with Irish lower-league officialdom offering Delaney effusive support, a PR-war emerged on Thursday.

The Times ran an excoriation of Delaney’s salary by Eamon Delaney (no relation), who wondered “how Irish soccer fans have tolerated” John D’s salary, which “at one stage, was €100k more” than the Italian and Spanish FA chiefs combined. Then, Ireland’s four provincial FA chiefs issued a 664-word gush over Delaney’s “contribution to the grassroots game. As CEO, he has visited almost 2000 grassroots clubs, turning the sod on many new grounds, and he has always recognised the work performed by volunteers at club level.”

The Times’ John Fallon linked the four “taking it upon themselves” to back Delaney with news that the FAI couldn’t ”confirm” if “it was still funding (their) salaries.” The FAI had funded them “before it experienced financial pressures from 2010,“ and, Fallon gleefully noted, Delaney’s proposal to “meet the €74m commitment” had “spectacularly flopped.”

But North East Football League secretary Gerry Gorman slammed the media’s “relentless and imbalanced” anti-Delaney coverage, calling featuring of the tennis ball protest “a prime example” of “glorifying idiocy.” And the “scrutiny heaped upon John by some Government Ministers” should be “coupled” with “the same degree of observation” of his achievements. “Let’s show the minority how wrong they are,” Gorman battle-cried, “with their views and unscrupulous methods.” Although NEFL club Ardee Celtic questioned who he was representing, because it wasn’t them.

Delaney has also, reportedly, received support from the antithesis of grassroots, the afore-mentioned filthy-rich Denis O’Brien, who is apparently impressed by Delaney’s European influence. However, given O’Brien’s ‘mixed’ reputation for a whole article’s worth of reasons, this support might be a double-edged sword.

The on-and-on-going pressure has, it seems, worked. Last Saturday, the FAI promised to commission, via a newly-established sub-committee, a properly “independent and in-depth external review of all matters” by “global auditing and consulting group Mazars” in acknowledgement of “the concerns expressed by members of the football family, supporters, commentators, politicians and the public around recent media stories concerning the Association.”

What this says about Hall and his associates remained unsaid and will thus be widely ‘speculated’ upon. And it remains to be seen whether the review will fulfil the FAI’s claimed “desire” it shares with its critics “for the matters to be addressed as soon as possible, with due regard to the different ongoing processes.” Or whether it will be used to side-step parliamentary scrutiny.

Delaney and the FAI deserve Oireachtas interrogation. Delaney’s financial dealings remain a mystery, a point his provincial fan-base overlooked in their hero-worship. But whatever Delaney has done, the board have allowed, through acquiescence or ignorance. So, unless every hidden payment and governance inadequacy is adequately explained, it is hard to see how the board can credibly continue operating as it does, or how Delaney can continue operating at all.