The ominous asterisk that shaped so many Airtricity League tables over recent years may yet make a comeback.
A remarkable statement by Bray Wanderers chairman Denis O’Connor, issued at half-time in Friday night’s defeat by champions Dundalk, raised alarms about the Wicklow club’s future.
And the unfolding drama took another twist yesterday when players were told they were free to find new clubs.
It is understood chairman Denis O’Connor met with the players at training to tell them the news that the club apparently only have money to cover costs up to next week.
The PFAI broke the news on Twitter. It is further believed that the Wanderers squad are due to meet the PFAI tomorrow.
Despite riding high in third place in the top flight, and chasing European qualification in 2017, the Wicklow club are struggling financially.
Speaking before yesterday’s bombshell, O’Connor put that down mainly to poor gate receipts; no local advertising and sponsorship. And the fact the Carlisle Grounds cannot generate revenue outside of football or rugby league.
“It’s a multitude of things. Firstly, frustration. Secondly, it’s a statement from a business perspective that we cannot stay going as we are because you cannot run a League of Ireland club solely on private equity or private funds.
“That’s what’s gone on at Bray for the last year and a half. You just don’t keep doing it. If the people won’t support what you’re trying to do you have to say is there a different plan, or is there no plan or what? And I don’t know the answer right now. Ominous — No. But time to sit down and work it out — Yes.”
And the alternative is?
“Not be a Premiership club. What you do there is run down to the First Division and then the Wicklow League and have a laugh. This is two-edged sword.”
With the future of the Carlisle Grounds itself very much in debate over recent seasons, the Seasiders’ chairman further explained: “I believe we need additional investment of a significant level to keep us going as we are. But if you do that, is there any point continuing here if you’re not going to be supported?
“They (the fans) are not coming in, I don’t know. A decision has to be made on if we keep pumping money into this if the people don’t support it.”
Although 1,538 was the official attendance recorded last Friday, Bray have had some very poor crowds this season, including 649 (v Limerick); 477 (Galway); 638 (Drogheda) and 799 (Derry).
New investment is being sought as Wanderers are reportedly losing more than €100,000 a year. “I am looking. It takes time. League of Ireland is not attractive,” admitted O’Connor.
Pressed as to was whether he was confident of seeing out the season, the Tipperary native commented: “Well, not right now as it stands, It’s not a good position or situation. It’s unsustainable. There is no point working in a job every week where the income you get doesn’t pay for the household bills. You have to do something about that.”
While not revealing the Seagulls’ wage bill, O’Connor explained Bray’s players were being paid over a 40-week period. “The lowest budget (in the Premier Division) I’ve heard is €4,000 a week and the highest €14/15,000. You take any of them and multiply it by 42 and add up those gates, and ask yourself where does Bray stand? It will only take you five minutes to work out that it’s unsustainable.”
When pressed why they dished out contracts when this scenario was known at the start of 2017, O’Connor stated: “We said Harry (Kenny) was a guy who could get us further up the table so if we invest in him, hopefully following that we will get the support that that merits. Harry did his job and we never got the support.”
At the start of the 2017, Dundalk were linked with Bray’s prized asset of Dylan Connolly.
O’Connor dismissed reports of bids of €100,000, €50,000 and €25,000. But the former Irish U21 cap was sold last Thursday to the Lilywhite’s for a reported fee of €35,000 to €40,000.
The move came just weeks after former manager Mike Cooke settled a near €50,000 claim against the club for breach of contract.
“We don’t have to sell players. The Dylan thing is unusual. Dylan wanted out. No matter what team you have, if one of the lads wants out then forget it lads. You’re wasting your time. In fact, a fella that wants out will bring the rest of the lads down. I have no problem,” revealed O’Connor.
Bray’s next game is not until Friday July 14 when they entertain runaway Premier Division leaders Cork City at the Carlisle Grounds.
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