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A general view of Finn Park.
A general view of Finn Park.
Image: Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

'We would almost certainly fold' - Irish clubs fear for their future amid coronavirus chaos

Finn Harps are one of many League of Ireland teams who can ill afford to play a number of matches behind closed doors.
Mar 10th 2020, 3:51 PM 9,919 1

HIGH-PROFILE matches all across Europe are being arranged to be played behind closed doors owing to the coronavirus outbreak, but that rule has yet to be implemented in Irish football.

Yesterday, the Football Association of Ireland confirmed that there would no pre-match handshakes in line with “recommendations made by the World Health Organisation to minimise potential transmission of COVID-19″.

Should the FAI emulate the likes of La Liga and Serie A and opt to play a number of games behind closed doors, the measure could have a potentially catastrophic impact on domestic football clubs.

Unlike sides such as Juventus and Barcelona, Irish teams rely heavily on revenue generated from match-day income to stay afloat.

One such side who operate on a strict budget are Finn Harps. They say competing under such conditions whereby fans are required to stay away from stadiums could potentially put them out of business.

“We would almost certainly fold in that scenario unless there was outside assistance,” says Aidan McNelis, a board member and director of Communications and Engagement at Finn Harps, when asked about the prospect of playing matches behind closed doors for a sustained period.

It’s not just the gate receipts, it’s the various match sponsors and all the other stuff sold on the night as well. The average spend by an League of Ireland fan on match night was found to be around €30 in an Irish Supporter Network survey in 2017. Plus even when we do other fundraisers like the draw we had at the Dundalk game — the money is actually collected at a game in most cases. Most alternate income streams also involve getting people together — we have a Pub Quiz on Thursday to help cover the extra costs associated with the very busy April and May schedule for example.

“We have no backer with deep pockets — it’s fan owned, fan run, fan funded. Games behind closed doors would have us in massive trouble and quickly too.

“First the FAI on the brink of collapse and now this. A few months without an existential threat would be just lovely at this stage.”

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He continues: “It’s a bit like the situation with the FAI where people were saying it might just fold and there’d be no league. It’s almost something that’s too big to plan for in some ways.

“You don’t want to be leaving people high and dry, but if the income dries up, how do we keep the players and management and that looked after? It’s pretty scary.

It’s minor on the scale of things, but at the same time, we’re the heartbeat of a thriving community and that’s very important too. We’ve just got to find a way through it. We’ll take the advice, do the best we can and try to survive.

“The instinct is that it’s going to be suspended at some point. How we deal with it — we’ve just got to work that out.

“We’ve been defying the odds for a long time just by existing, so I guess we have to do it once more.”

No League of Ireland matches have been postponed so far this week, with Finn Harps due to take on Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium on Friday.

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Paul Fennessy

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