Maybe it’s just as well the League of Ireland top brass have yet to ratify the branding report unveiled yesterday as the elements contained ranged from the impractical to the ridiculous.

Although it seemed the 18,000-word blueprint was well on its way to being rubberstamped two weeks ago after FAI chief executive John Delaney branded it “very good”, league director Fran Gavin was keen to put the brakes on any implementation timetable.

Jonathan Gabay is an international expert in the field of branding but revealed this was his first project working with a football association.

Affable, engaging, and witty, he produced a series of observations and recommendations during the course of his 90-minute address to an audience comprised of clubs, media, and FAI staff at Lansdowne Road.

The 99-page final document he devised from three months’ trekking around the country to different clubs, meetings officials and supporters, will now be given to the FAI board for consideration.

There was no mention yesterday as to whether all, or any, of the contents will be enacted as policy and it remains to be seen if clubs are enamoured with the document.

Many of the items raised are on the micro scale, initiatives clubs have already tried in their local areas with varying degrees of success, rather than tackling the broader issues such as investment and transparency from the FAI.

“It’s an independent report,” said Gavin.

“These are Jonathan’s views. He’s being open and frank about it. We didn’t commission Jonathan to do what we wanted. He’s an international branding expert and that’s his speciality.

“From our point of view, there’s nothing agreed or anything like that. We’ll bring it internally, have a look at it, see what we think and is there anything we can adapt and work on. But it’s independent, I think people can see that it’s his opinion.

“The league have set up an internal marketing group, including club representatives, and it will be discussed at that level. We’ll discuss that early in the New Year and see if there’s any of this we can adapt and we can use. It’s very interesting.

“We have to accept that’s where he sees it. It’s his own view of it after meeting a lot of people. I see he wants to connect the Irish team — that you’ll see a lot players in the League of Ireland first — so we’ll look at it.”

Recognising the disconnect that exists between some clubs and supporters with the FAI, Gabay made the sensible suggestion of promoting improved communication between the factions. The degree to which this division prevails was most pointedly brought home to him during his research at last month’s FAI Cup final between Dundalk and Cork City.

“Attending the FAI Cup final, I witnessed flares being thrown onto the pitch by hardcore fans — at one point almost setting fire to the goal netting. The tribes also chanted abuse criticising the FAI,” he writes in his report.

“Given that the FAI — in all its broader aspects — from national administrators to associated volunteers — are in fact the League of Ireland’s greatest supporters, and that the brazen chants were yelled in front of leading public dignitaries attending the game, as an outsider, despite the football play on the pitch, the entire experience left the impression that the brand as a whole lacked solidity and pride.”

In response, he calls for the appointment of a liaison director, a standalone employee charged with interacting between the association and supporters groups.

Gabay also recommends the return of club promotions officers, a sponsored initiative the FAI had in place only to cull as their financial woes materialised under the debts created by the Vantage Club ticketing scheme flop.

Clubs may not be too heartened to hear the consultant propose a programme whereby third-level students would assume these roles at club level as part of their qualification.

Despite Gabay labelling the role in its previous guise as resembling a “dogsbody”, they still received a €15,000 grant from the FAI for their services.

Other brainwaves, more fantasy in nature, emerged. Gabay’s ‘Hands Across The Atlantic’ initiative would draw capacity crowds. This would consist of televised matches between League of Ireland and guest clubs from the MLS or NASI on bank-holiday weekends.

Then, there is the branded bus. This would be adorned with league branding and club crests, sprung from a centralised location to ferry the top players from clubs around the country where they would meet with locals.

To use one of Gabay’s catchphrases, the League of Ireland is not that bleak. Roll on 2017.


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