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Dublin: 7°C Thursday 22 October 2020

The Emperor has no clothes: Bray should be apologetic and embarrassed, not defiant

Situation at the Carlisle Grounds is appalling, and really not funny, writes John O’Sullivan.

Wanderers: Harry Kenny and his coaching staff try to carry on in turbulent circumstances.
Wanderers: Harry Kenny and his coaching staff try to carry on in turbulent circumstances.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

LEAGUE OF IRELAND clubs have few assets. We rent our stadia and training facilities. We’ll own a few laptops and some training equipment. Player contracts are cited as an asset but few will be worth anything. Transfer fee paydays are infrequent.

Our greatest asset where finance is concerned is our credibility, our word.

It’s clichéd but it’s true. Survival through inevitable cashflow issues depends on your staff and creditors’ trust.

The situation in Bray is appalling and despite the wit on display across social media, it’s really not funny. The lack of professionalism and common sense in Bray over recent weeks makes me worry for the future of the club. While it’s important to acknowledge that no player payments have been missed in Bray and that the board are honouring their commitment in that respect, the uncertainty and unrest caused by club officials is scandalous.

I witnessed it at Cork City in the late 2000s as successive officials shared fantasy instead of strategy, took swipes at the public while displaying their sense of entitlement and their paranoia. Bray’s proclamations are eerily similar to those that have failed elsewhere.

When their five-year plan, hugely praised by the FAI, seemed reliant on the sale of the Carlisle Grounds and relocating the club, eyebrows were raised. People publicly questioned the board’s motivations. Yesterday’s bizarre, North Korea-referencing press release confirms that the basket in which Bray are placing their eggs is the sale and rezoning of a football ground they do not own.

Gerry Mulvey is now chairman, though previous chair Denis O’Connor had publicly highlighted Mulvey’s need to step back and limit funding since April. O’Connor stated Mulvey had pulled out and alternative sources of income were needed to pay wages and to keep the club afloat.

Bray have broken the first rule that clubs break only as a last resort. You can’t mess with player wages. Alongside monies owed to fellow clubs, it’s the only type of debt that can affect your licence, so it’s always a club’s primary worry. Believe me, if a club is in difficulty, players will be looked after first; everyone else can join the queue. Creditors know that too – if players can’t be paid, no-one can be paid. They’ll be outside your office looking for payment. Chairmen have climbed out windows to avoid them.

We listened to O’Connor state that they built a European qualifying standard squad and hoped that the crowds would follow to offset the cost. One minute on Google will show you that 0.51% of the country attends league games, and the population of Wicklow is 142,000 people, so 724 people is a realistic home attendance in the Carlisle Grounds at a base level. You’d need something very special to double it and you need to do it slowly, organically. There are no quick fixes, there are no fast bucks in League of Ireland football.

Bray claimed they were broke, unsettled their players, incurred the wrath of the PFAI and worried their supporters. Soon after, Denis O’Connor told us everything was OK. Players – understandably – wanted confirmation. O’Connor resigned, Mulvey has assumed the role of chairman and he’s already compared Wicklow – his support base - to North Korea.

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Bray supporters should be furious. We all should be. Bray’s troubles will put your club under pressure as your creditors will question if any club in this league is sustainable. Credit will be harder to come by, and that has an impact.

Cork City are flying these days, but in the early days of supporters’ ownership we faced a period of seven weeks with a single home game, an unglamorous game against Mervue United on a Thursday night with a 6.30pm kick-off, the fixture moved due to circumstances outside our control. The board sat down the Monday before the game, we expected a tiny crowd, we reviewed our cashflow, we were in short-term trouble. We knew that the following weeks would have us back on track, but the next wage cycle was an issue.

We couldn’t afford for players wages to go unpaid. We had set ourselves up as the antithesis of the previous owner. The memory of the team stranded in Cork as a result of unpaid bills to our bus company was still fresh. We knew that once Dan Murray had to issue his public plea for support, every creditor of the club looked to call in their invoices. After that, few businesses would work with the club without being paid up front. Credibility was gone.

Facing into the Mervue game, we couldn’t afford to lose the players’ trust and we couldn’t afford rumours in public about player wages. A number of the board, none of us wealthy, turned up at Turner’s Cross for the game with our personal savings in our pockets to cover wages just in case the attendance was down. Thankfully, the City fans came out despite the drawbacks. We got back on track and ended up turning a profit by season’s end.

I’ve thought of that night a lot as I’ve watched the farce being played out at Bray Wanderers over recent weeks. Their credibility is gone and it’s their own fault. They should be apologetic and embarrassed, not defiant as their press release suggests. The Emperor has no clothes.

– First published 10.16, 28 July. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the population of Wexford is 142,000; it should have stated that the population of Wicklow is 142,000.

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