Neal Horgan: Glimpsing hope in the ghosts of Christmas future

Christmas arrives. Die Hard is on. Only this year it doesn’t involve Bruce Willis climbing up an elevator chute and killing baddies. No, this year Die Hard took place at the reconvened FAI AGM.

Neal Horgan: Glimpsing hope in the ghosts of Christmas future

Christmas arrives. Die Hard is on. Only this year it doesn’t involve Bruce Willis climbing up an elevator chute and killing baddies. No, this year Die Hard took place at the reconvened FAI AGM.

Swap the Nakatomi Plaza for the Citywest Hotel, where there was little Christmas cheer to be found yesterday as far more sobering thoughts abounded.

Liquidation or examinership of the FAI are now real possibilities, according to FAI executive lead Paul Cooke.

The potential consequences of either of these scenarios are uncertain and frightening. It must be a very worrying time to be an FAI employee.

Similarly, employees, players, and volunteers of League of Ireland, intermediate, junior, and schoolboy clubs will be very concerned and that is before we consider the position of our national sides. For most Irish fans, either scenario doesn’t bear thinking about.

An equally disturbing revelation came from FAI accountants, Deloitte, who stated that they believe they were misled.

Nor could Cooke guarantee that there aren’t more damaging revelations on the way next year. With a number of reports still pending on the mess that is Irish football in 2019, you can be fairly certain that we have not reached the bottom yet.

Maybe it’s just the holiday spirit in me, but I’m growing weary of the seemingly never-ending bad news and the drawn-out nature of the disclosures. I’m hardly alone in growing fed up, or in dreaming of a new dawn at some stage down the road.

The miraculous tale of Irish football’s turnaround

December 29, 2039

Twenty years ago today the FAI were on the brink of collapse following a series of scandals that rocked Irish football to its core. The revelation of a huge debt was met with shock in most corners and represented a low point in the game in Ireland. Eventually, after the initial disgust and confusion abated, a Government and UEFA-supervised restructuring and rebranding took place, which allowed Irish football to move away from the edge of the financial precipice upon which it had been teetering and to secure the positions of most of those FAI employees who had, up to that point, suffered through a period of terrible uncertainty.

There followed a major shift towards proper planning for the future of the game. There was talk of a turning point, of a crossroads of sorts, having been reached. However, not even the most optimistic observers back then could have anticipated the dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of the game in Ireland over the following two decades.

The final days in the downfall of the self-serving and repressive ancient regime had been drawn-out and painful. But once they were removed or had left, the shoots of hope arrived quickly. The restructured association was nothing like its predecessor. Looking back, one of the most important features of the restructure was the abolition of the previous voting system for electing FAI delegates and board members, together with changes to how monies were paid to clubs.

A more transparent system for providing supports to clubs meant that the association’s board and delegates were elected on the basis of their professional qualifications, experiences, and reputations both within and outside the game.

A new outlook emerged. A more ambitious and responsible culture grew. The Irish footballing community were no longer satisfied to be just jolly ‘Boys in Green’, to travel and sing even if the team lost 4-0, happy to accept with glee the free pints on the gravy train, to look away from the state of the game at home.

Fresh eyes saw new opportunities. Access to the behemoth that is club football in Europe was at last properly understood and optimised. The elite game in Ireland (for men and women) was backed as it had never been before by both the restructured governing association and Government. This backing indicated to new fans and commercial sponsors that the domestic league was something to embrace. Those new fans and commercial interests brought a momentum that gathered pace to the extent that today our domestic professional game for both men and women is as impressive a feature of Irish sport as any other.

Maybe I’ve just had too many glasses of mulled wine or Granny has spiked the Christmas pudding again but I believe if we reorganise Irish football in a professional and responsible manner, we can achieve great things and become a sporting community Irish people can be proud of.

We are far from that now though, and I do fear that Government’s mandate to clear out ‘the old board’ amounts to an over-simplistic understanding of the problem.

Getting rid of ‘the baddies’ may be required to bring change, but meaningful change means following through and delivering a whole new direction for the game here.

The hope is that better days lie ahead, but the fear is that Die Hard with a Vengeance will play out next year or, even worse, Back to the Future.

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