Why I’m finished going to Ireland home games.

27 Nov


I  can’t actually believe I’ve just typed that headline above.  Since my Dad brought myself and my two brothers, Myles and Kevin to Lansdowne Road for the first time on 3rd July 1973 to see an All Ireland/Shamrock Rovers XI play the World Champions Brazil, going to home matches (and away ones for that matter) never failed to get my excitement levels soaring.  My anticipation at what lay ahead in the 90 minutes plus that I would stand on whatever terrace I could stand on (or seat I could sit in when all seater stadia were imposed on us) always was at fever pitch, whether or not it was Lansdowne Road, Dalymount Park, Tolka Park, RDS, it didn’t matter.  Supporting Ireland was my little bit of Heaven, still is and always will be.  I will however from here on and for the foreseeable future, watch the home games on my sofa or in a bar with fans (who have become firm friends over the years) who are as frustrated and demoralised as me.

So why am I finished going to home games?  Well, I’ve had it with the Football Association of Ireland.  Now before I go any further, I want to acknowledge what the FAI have done in recent years in conjunction with the Irish fans’ website You Boys in Green with which I am heavily involved.  The FAI (eventually) caved in and gave former international Dave Langan a long overdue Testimonial Dinner in October 2008.  Dave had been injured on international duty in 1981 in a never to be forgotten Worl d Cup Qualifier against France (we won 3-2) at Lansdowne Road.  That injury led to a catalogue of subsequent injuries for Dave, who fell on very hard times.  Eventually as I said however, the FAI granted Dave the testimonial dinner and this was of assistance to Dave.  Fans attending the dinner however (I was one) were horrified to learn afterwards that the pre-dinner drinks reception was deducted from Dave’s cut!  We would gladly have paid for our own drinks if we’d known the bar tab was on Dave Langan.  The money raised on Dave’s behalf was then interminably slow in getting to its rightful destination (you can read further about it in Dave’s autobiography “Running Through Walls”).  We were thankful for small mercies, Dave got his recognition, but without YBIG, Dave would still be  forgotten.

The FAI was amenable to the setting up of a “Singing Section” when Lansdowne Road was being re-developed.  Frustrated at the ghostly atmosphere while home games were played in Croke Park, YBIG asked for a designated section for vocal fans to be set up.  That was implemented.  That relationship was badly damaged however at last week’s match against the USA at Lansdowne Road.  Irish fans, frustrated at the lack of transparency and fairness in the allocation of tickets to the away game against Scotland in Glasgow (and previous games in recent years), decided to stage a peaceful protest and brought in flags/banners in protest about the FAI’s system and in protest about the Chief Executive John Delaney.  The stance the FAI took to this protest, from the fans John Delaney labelled “the best fans in the world” was to send in heavy-handed stewards and Gardai to the Singing Section.  The protest flags/banners, despite abiding by the Stadium guidelines in terms of health and safety and other regulations, were forcibly removed by stewards.  Stewards also tore up Stadium regulations when fans pointed out the banners didn’t contravene any conditions.  In short, bully boy tactics were enforced by the Association to try and “quell” a completely peaceful and justified protest.  It was un-necessary, unfair and totally unjustified on the Association’s part.  John Delaney stated in a subsequent interview that he didn’t have an issue with fans protesting about the state of Irish football.  The action by stewards and Gardai last week clearly demonstrated this was not the case.

I’m grateful to other people in the FAI who have helped YBIG in organising Fans’ matches, who have provided footballs, match kit and other facilities to us.  I have friends in the Association who I know do their job superbly and with the best interests of Irish football at heart.  The past few weeks however have made up my mind in giving the FAI any more money, or buying merchandise associated with the FAI.  The following passage will really explain why I’ve made this gut-wrenching decision.

At the end of October, emails were sent to those who applied for tickets for the match in Glasgow.  It very quickly became apparent that dozens (at least) of fans who had 100% attendance records at away games in recent years, fans who had been “promised” by FAI officials in Tbilisi in September they’d be looked after for Glasgow, had failed in their request for precious Scottish match tickets.  It also became apparent that the FAI had absolutely no system in place to ensure fans who deserved these tickets got them.  The deadline for tickets was extended by the FAI, despite the demand being over-subscribed (we would be granted 3,200 tickets by the Scottish FA, 5% of the capacity).   Why was the deadline extended?  This question was put to the FAI.  It hasn’t been answered.  It emerged that people who hadn’t even been to an Ireland home game had been given tickets to the Scotland game.

When Irish fans bought season tickets, one of the “attractions” is that it would provide a  “priority” option in securing away tickets.  Dozens (at least) of season ticket holders were denied Scottish tickets.  Some priority that.

An urgent meeting to discuss the Glasgow ticket mess was set up between YBIG and the FAI.  Questions were put to the FAI whose officials stated they would be answered.  Those questions haven’t been answered.  A follow up email to John Delaney contained the following questions:

  Does the FAI retain data from supporters after away tickets have been allocated, in respect of compiling details of how many games they have attended, and take that into account when determining whether to allocate tickets for future games?

  If the FAI does retain such data, why did the system fail so spectacularly, and why were fans such as season ticket holders with 100% away records refused tickets? We understand that an FAI employee indicated that he took his “eye off the ball” but issues remain over why individual mistakes can make such a difference and why a robust system is not in place.

  If the FAI does not retain such data, why is it not retained and considered when deciding whether supporters should be allocated tickets for away games?

  What is the meaning of the term “priority”, in the promotional material for season tickets, and what other groups have priority equal to or above season ticket holders?

  Why did the FAI change policy and assign priority to supporters’ clubs in respect of the allocation of away tickets, without making this fact publicly known?

  Why did the FAI not benchmark the allocation to supporters club against previous requests and/or season tickets held by that supporters club?

  How did the number of applications for Scotland tickets increase from the 6,000 quoted to supporters in Tbilisi, to 10,000 in FAI communications subsequently, to “four times higher than the number available” in the release of the 29th October, 2014, when the portal for away applications closed on the 31st July?

  Were applications for tickets received and considered after the 31st July, or did persons who applied after that date receive tickets when persons who applied on time did not, and if this happened, why did it happen?

  Why has the FAI sought to blame the Scottish FA for refusing to provide more tickets, when the main issue raised by YBIG and other supporters does not concern the number of tickets received but rather the means by which they were allocated?

  Why was the FAI unwilling to commit to the implementation of a fair and transparent system for the allocation of away tickets, along the lines of the Scottish FA’s own system, when they met with site users over a year ago, and also in the last week?

Not unreasonable questions I’m sure you’ll agree.  The questions have gone unanswered and have been pointedly ignored by the Association.

Anger grew towards CEO John Delaney, justifiably so following the Scottish tickets fiasco and the pathetic orders to deny a peaceful protest in Lansdowne Road last week.  Delaney attempted to shift blame for the ticket mess onto the SFA for “only” giving us 5% of the capacity of Celtic Park.  He further fanned the flames of anger by suggesting there would be “tension” around Glasgow as Irish fans were forced to buy tickets in the Scottish section.  This was disrespectful not only to the “best fans in the world” but also the Tartan Army, another set of fans with a justifiably excellent worldwide reputation.  In an infantile gesture of defiance to the SFA prior to the Scottish game, FAI officials boycotted the pre-match reception held by their Scottish hosts.

As the dust settled on Glasgow and the Lansdowne protest, anger towards Delaney soared.  It soon transpired however that John Delaney went out after the USA game to The Bath Bar adjacent to Lansdowne Road for his well-liked few pints.  During that post-match gathering,  Delaney sang “The Ballad of Joe McDonnell”, a wonderful song written from a 1981 hunger striker’s viewpoint by Brian Warfield of the legendary ballad group The Wolfe Tones.   A snippet of Delaney’s version was captured on video and posted on the Internet.

What followed has been probably the most spectacular own goal ever scored by John Delaney and the FAI.   The sports website balls.ie posted the clip of Delaney’s “singing” on its website.  A phone call from an FAI official called for its removal, with the assertion that it wasn’t in fact John Delaney singing the song.  As balls.ie had no corroboration or absolute proof it was Delaney and faced with the threat of legal action over its continued posting, they decided to remove the video.  English newspapers The Guardian and Telegraph also elected to post the video on their online versions a couple of days later.  Similar legal threats were issued to both papers, before John Delaney went on Irish radio to confirm it was in fact him singing “Joe McDonnell” in the Bath Pub after all!   So here we were in a situation where three publications were threatened with legal action over a video, with one arm of the FAI denying it was him, yet the man himself coming out and saying the opposite!

I must point out that I have no issue with John Delaney singing such a song as “Joe McDonnell”, it is as I said a wonderful song and a song I sing myself regularly.  People who understand the song’s context and history have no problem with him singing it.  The problem was in the false legal threats.  John Delaney slated the “sly” way the snippet was captured.  Yet he was in a public bar near Lansdowne Road a couple of hours after a major international.  It wasn’t exactly private was it?

Fans continued to vent their fury at the CEO’s behaviour and spin and many called for his removal as CEO.  Unfortunately, some posts on YBIG’s forum contained personal abuse aimed at Delaney and his new partner, Emma English.  The posts, once spotted by YBIG moderators, were removed.  The posters were banned and an apology issued to Ms English and an offer of a charity donation also.  It has been reported that neither Ms English nor John Delaney has accepted the apology, regrettable given that 99.9% of YBIG members would not have made such personal comments, nor condoned such comments either.

Delaney went on radio to air his anger at the “cyber bullying” of his new partner and bemoaned the invasion of privacy into his love life and his singing in the Bath Bar.   This from a couple who openly courted publicity in appearing on Irish chat shows and in several publications advertising their happiness.  This from a man who allowed a film crew follow him around for several months to make a documentary about him called “John the Baptist”.  This from a man who goes to football clubs in Ireland for a “Come Dine with Me” night.  This from a man who allows his shoes to be removed by drunken fans and throws ties into the crowd when Ireland gains a massive result.  A very private man indeed.  Anyone know who the partner/wife of IRFU CEO Philip Browne is?  Anyone see him diving into fans when Ireland were winning Grand Slams and Six Nations tournaments?  Anyone remember Philip Browne leading a sing song in a bar near the Stadium?  Did Philip Browne throw a tie into the crowd after Ireland had huge rugby wins over South Africa and Australia recently?  No, didn’t think so.  Type John Delaney and Philip Browne into youtube and see what you come up with.

In another radio interview following the ballad singing controversy, Delaney stated that the cyber-bullying from YBIG members had been ongoing.  This was incorrect.  The personal comments had been removed as quickly as feasibly possible.  Inferences by Delaney towards YBIG and its members were misleading and inaccurate, with those comments allowed to go unchallenged.  Delaney’s subsequent attempts to clean up the legal threat mess had so many holes in it, it resembled the Titanic, something The Guardian and particularly Telegraph were only too happy to dissect and show the statement up for what it was, utter nonsense.  The FAI President, Tony Fitzgerald,  then released a statement regarding the monumental Delaney own goal, which only really led to the Association scoring another one, such was the statement.

As you probably know, I support the domestic game also, attending as many Shamrock Rovers games as I possibly can.  Many selfless, committed and wonderful people go to and volunteer their time for domestic football, from Rovers fans to Bohs, their great rivals.  From Ballybofey to Cobh, from Galway to Wexford, from Sligo to Drogheda.  Despite the efforts of so many wonderful people, John Delaney recently referred to the League of Ireland as the “problem child”.  In the continuing struggle for clubs to get people through their turnstiles, the CEO saw fit to call the League a “problem child”.  Great help that Mr Delaney.  Instead of actually doing something to stamp out the various woes afflicting the domestic game, a shrug of the shoulders to a problem child was his answer.  Marvellous.

I will continue to support the domestic game and contribute to Shamrock Rovers FC as often as I can and I will attend away matches as often as I can to support other League of Ireland clubs.  I will not however, while the current regime remains in place, support the finances of the FAI.  I’m done with the spin, I’m done with the paranoia, I’m done with the misleading of Joe Public, the half truths, the cronyism and bullying.  I didn’t buy a season ticket, but I know of dozens (and probably more) who have, but they won’t be renewing them and will take the same stance as me in boycotting future home games and denying the FAI of money and I would urge others to do likewise.

I will continue to support the eleven men on the park and our team Manager, Martin O’Neill and whoever succeeds Martin when the time comes.  I will (finance allowing) support the team away from home (if I can get a ticket to see the game) and do so with passion, honesty and decency.  Honesty and decency that hasn’t been forthcoming from certain (not all I hasten to add) people in Abbotstown.  I would like to thank those in the FAI (they know who they are) who have become (and hopefully will remain) friends of mine.

Best fans in the world John?  You don’t deserve us.

Come on Ireland.

Phelim Warren, 27th November 2014.


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