FAI chief takes ‘grave offence’ at Sopot criticism

FAI chief executive John Delaney has defended his much-publicised drinking sessions with Irish fans during Ireland’s disastrous Euro 2012 campaign.

In weekend interviews, Mr Delaney claimed he had spent some €30,000 of his own money on fans during his reign and took “grave offence” at criticism of his socialising while in Poland.

The FAI chief said he was “entitled” to a night out during the Euro 2012 campaign in Poland.

“We worked very, very hard. And if I had a night out, with family, my sister was over there, my brother-in-law and some friends, I think that’s something I’m entitled to do on the odd occasion when I’m there,” he said.

Mr Delaney also sought to address criticism of the incident where he was carried head-high by hundreds of Irish fans, who then removed his shoes and socks.

“What happened one evening on the way home to the hotel was a couple of hundred fans raised me up in the air and they carried me head-high home. Now, if that’s a crime, I’m not guilty,” he said.

The FAI chief described the incident as a “a bit of folklore” that had been blown out of proportion.

However, many of the fans who witnessed the event described Mr Delaney’s behaviour as “embarrassing”. On a separate occasion, he is believed to have bought a round for an entire bar in Sopot.

He admitted to spending €30,000 of his own money on fans in his tenure, saying there was nothing wrong in buying a drink for the fans.

“The Irish fans have been incredible and what’s wrong with me buying them a drink? They invest so much in following the team. Just because other chief executives don’t do it doesn’t mean I won’t,” he said.

However, this seems to go against what the FAI chief said prior to the tournament. Speaking at the launch of the Drinkaware.ie Euro 2012 Survival Guide in May, he said there would be no repeat of the infamous “party train” for Irish supporters in Estonia last year.

Mr Delaney came under further pressure last night when the chairman of Monaghan United Jim McGlone, whose club to resign from the Airtricity League due to financial issues, blasted his behaviour at the European Championships.

“There would be serious disquiet, not only within the Airtricity league, but within football in general over his behaviour,” said Mr McGlone. “I suppose a man is entitled to a drink, and there would have been occasions in the past where I would have been glad nobody was around with a camera to take a picture of me, but when you are representing an association, images like that appearing do not look good.”

Meanwhile, the FAI has hit back at claims by sports promoter Damien O’Brien that the association lost out on a deal he had made with the FA to bring England to the Aviva for a friendly in August. Mr O’Brien said he pulled the plug on the deal after the FAI scuppered a separate plan he had to hold a tournament at Thomond Park in Limerick.

Mr O’Brien’s claims were “incorrect”, said the FAI.

“The FAI have been speaking directly to the FA on his matter for quite some time, and will continue to do so in order to schedule a friendly for a future date,” it said in a statement.

Delaney on defence

* “I wasn’t aware of that but other people will describe you as someone who has brought the association to professional status. That’s been said to me many, many times. If that’s an individual’s opinion, fine, but I think there are a lot better opinions out there, a lot more positive opinions, if you look at the FAI before I took it over to where it is today.”

— On descriptions of him in the Guardian as a “clown” and the “FAI’s prize cabbage”.

* “I think the Irish fans had a good time, I think they were well behaved, I think they were a credit to their country. That’s the feedback that everybody in Poland gave, that Uefa gave, and I’ve asked Uefa to consider giving them an award given their exceptional behaviour.”

— On whether Irish fans drank too much in Poland.

* “Not really. I think one of the greatest stakeholders we have is the interaction with the supporters. I helped them in many, many ways, be it through tickets... one guy wanted a battery charger for his phone, other guys lost passports. When I meet them, some of them look for signed jerseys for charity.”

“The interaction with the supporters has been more than helpful. The supporters like it. It’s well known I’m close to the Irish supporters. Certainly I’ll continue to interact with the supporters going forward.”

On whether he agreed with Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin’s accusation that he had shown a lack of leadership on the issue of alcohol.

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