By Liam Mackey
FROM being on the brink of extinction, Shamrock Rovers are set to enter a new era as a fans-owned club with a stadium in Tallaght, subject to High Court approval next week of a rescue package for the famous Dublin club.
Neil Hughes, the court-appointed examiner of the club which had amassed debts of €3 million, announced yesterday that following a series of critical meetings with creditors, his proposals to facilitate the survival of Shamrock Rovers had been accepted. Minutes after a press conference at the Plaza Hotel in Tallaght, Hughes found himself surrounded by cheering Rovers supporters already celebrating what looks to be a remarkable recovery for the embattled club.
Following an agreement to acquire 50% each of the restructured club on the part of the 400 Club the fans group which has been backrolling the Hoops this season and Australian-based businessman and longtime Rovers fan Ray Wilson, creditors yesterday voted to accept a series of proposals put to them by the examiner. As a result, Neil Hughes said: "We are now in a very optimistic position in terms of the future of Shamrock Rovers FC."
The examiner also revealed that Fingal County Council have confirmed that Morton Stadium in Santry will be available to Shamrock Rovers for the 2006 season, "at a cost which is substantially cheaper to the present fee which is being paid to Bohemians FC." It's understood that Rovers will pay €20,000 a year for the use of Morton Stadium in contrast to the €60,000 which they currently pay as tenants at Dalymount Park.
Hughes also said that, following negotiations with the site's leaseholders, South Dublin County Council have confirmed that they will complete the building of the ground in Tallaght as a municipal stadium and that Shamrock Rovers, as preferential users, will have their long term home there. The hope is that the long-awaited stadium will now be completed by June 2006.
As a result of yesterday's meetings with creditors, it is understood that the Revenue Commissioners will receive a settlement of €40,000 on an outstanding amount of just under €1 million owed by the club. Had the club gone into liquidation, Neil Hughes said, it's likely that the Revenue would have received nothing.
In the course of the Examinership process, Mr Hughes discovered that Shamrock Rovers had previously operated a system in which "a substantial amount" of net wages would be paid in the form of expenses without deduction of PAYE/PRSI. As a result of irregularities in their accounts, Rovers had their club license for this season revoked by the FAI and were deducted the eight points which contributed to their current bottom of the table position in the eircom Premier League.
However, since the day-to-day running of the club was taken over by a steering group which includes two trustees of the 400 Club, two directors and the examiner himself, Mr Hughes says that a proper payroll system has been put in place.
In April, at the start of the examinership, the weekly wage bill was €23,000. With the sale of a number of players, it has since been cut to €15,500, representing an annual saving of €400,000. With the club's financial affairs now on what he called "a proper footing", Mr Hughes said: "Revenue can point to the new restructured Shamrock Rovers as a precedent for dealing with other professional football clubs as to how payroll and the payment of PAYE/PRSI should operate."
Mr Hughes paid particular tribute to the 400 Club, and he put the total expected investment by fans to the end of this year at €750,000, which he described as "a remarkable achievement."
Jonathan Roche, chair of the 400 Club and a member of the steering group, welcomed yesterday's news, saying: "It's been a hard few months and the creditors' meetings were quite tough, especially with the Revenue, who had a lot of money owed to them. We're delighted that it's now going to the High Court for the judge to decide on."
Said 400 Club trustee Mark Lynch: "We're on the road to achieving the aim of the survival of the club. Relegation would not take away Shamrock Rovers though it would hold us back. But with nearly half the season to go, we're not considering that."
Rovers manager Roddy Collins said: "It's very positive news. And it gives great stability to the club."
Neil Hughes returns to the High Court on Monday where he will report the outcome of the examinership. The process will then conclude following its hearing in the High Court later next week."