An 83-year history of League of Ireland football in Limerick is set to end after court protection for Limerick FC was withdrawn.
The club entered a 100-day examinership in September with debts of approximately €490,000 but the removal of that protection leaves Limerick with few options: voluntary liquidation, a petition from their creditors calling for liquidation, or an 11th-hour miracle.
Having played in the league since 1937, they have been left without a League of Ireland licence for 2020 after a painful season which has featured players voting for strike action over unpaid wages, a player crowdfunding €4,000 to pay for surgery on a knee injury he sustained playing for the club, a Garda raid as part of an investigation into match-fixing allegations, and a 26-point deduction for entering examinership.
Munster Football Club Ltd, Limerick FC’s parent company, “no longer has a reasonable prospect of survival”, Ennis Circuit Court was told before the examiner was discharged.
The banner heading across the Limerick FC website from its last update, three months ago, reads ‘LAST HOME GAME’, words which are now set to become permanently true.
Owner Pat O’Sullivan told Judge John O’Connor: “It is scandalous the way the FAI has treated me. The FAI have put every obstacle in the way of the club and ultimately what will happen is that the club will have to just fold.”
An FAI statement noted the news “with disappointment”: “League of Ireland officials have been in regular contact with the examiner over the past few months and will assess the situation in the coming days.
There has been no contact between the Limerick owner Pat O’Sullivan and the FAI over how he intends to proceed following today’s news. No application for a League of Ireland licence was made by Limerick FC as the club was in examinership.
A Shamrock Rovers ‘B’ team is expected to take their place in the First Division.
“There was a lot of wrong decisions, even some of the players and managers that were brought in,” said former Republic of Ireland manager Eoin Hand, who led the club through their greatest days in the early 80s.
“It’s very sad when anything like that happens. Limerick is such a great sporting city and it has a great soccer following. To me, it was a pathway for lads to come from their junior soccer or schoolboys football and going on to the highest standard in Ireland.
“That they spent the money in such a wasteful way to allow the club to be put into this position, there was bad mismanagement somewhere along the way. My overall feeling is one of sadness and regret that it should never have come to this, never.”
“It’s a very dark day,” said Mike Aherne, a former Limerick FC player and Live 95fm commentator. “It brings an end to a long, long history that Limerick have in the League of Ireland. People forget we played the mighty Real Madrid the year they got to the European Cup final and were the only team to score against them home and away through Des Kennedy.
“All that history is just going to be history. Sam Allardyce came over, transformed the club, got them promoted. Again, there was money worries at that stage. He was going around knocking on doors, looking for money to pay the players’ wages.
“There’s great stories down through the years but it’s done now, as far as I can see, until absolute confirmation.”
Crowds had dwindled as bad news surrounded the club’s final years.
“The public gave up halfway through the season,” said Aherne. “Crowds hit an all-time low. You had the players and manager giving it everything and when the public realised they weren’t being paid or rewarded for that, and they were still being asked for money at the gate when it wasn’t filtering into the players’ wages, why should you continue to support that?”
He added: “It’s still possible some Limerick man could be an 11th-hour saviour, and everyone will think of one immediately, but he’s already done his part. He bought the stadium that he donated to be run on behalf of the people of Limerick.”
A stadium now set to lie empty on Friday nights.