come together
The FAI fear unity among clubs — but some are too busy pointing fingers
Complaining that you’re not in the PCA helps no one.

2017 SSE Airtricity League Season Launch Donall Farmer / INPHO The eight First Division clubs represented at the 2017 season launch at the Aviva Stadium back in February Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

THE PREMIER CLUBS Alliance was back in the news this week when Neil O’Riordan of The Sun broke the news that the PCA and the Football Association of Ireland are currently discussing a mid-season split as one of the potential structures of the new 10-team league for next season.

It’d nearly bring you to tears.

You’d hope that the PCA and the FAI are speaking about far more important issues than another fruitless exercise where we rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic.

In the long history of the league, we have tried pretty much every variation of structure that can be attempted; no structural change has made any significant, long-lasting difference to the quality, standard or interest in Irish football.

We might not be the Titanic, but we need to stop rearranging deckchairs. Shuffling structures is nonsense, it’s an easy administrative change that gives the impression of thought and action when it is of no meaningful consequence in the face of the myriad issues facing the league.

If there are concerns from clubs, there is nothing easier for the club to raise the red herring of a structural reshuffle. They’ll ask for feedback, the 20 individual clubs will have a preference for 20 slightly different models and it reinforces the feeling that the clubs aren’t unified and that the FAI’s governance of the league is vital.

So far, despite hints of progress in some areas, the PCA has merely served as another means for the FAI to divide and conquer clubs and create smoke and mirrors around the league’s real issues. Clubs are falling for it hook, line and sinker.

Cobh Ramblers manager Stephen Henderson — one of my favourite people in Irish football — lamented the progress the PCA were making and the exclusion of the First Division clubs on Twitter, and he has a point.

Stephen Henderson Tommy Dickson / INPHO Stephen Henderson, manager of Cobh Ramblers, who are currently in third place in the First Division. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

However, right or wrong, the PCA have never claimed to represent First Division clubs and have been consistent in this. Relegation removes your seat at the table.

First Division clubs are not represented in the PCA; they are supposed to be represented by the FAI. The FAI engagement with the PCA and lack of the same with First Division clubs — who were not even consulted on the change in league structure — is an FAI, and not a PCA, issue. It helps to create a sense of disharmony that has been the FAI modus operandi for years.

In my experience, the FAI want to deal with the 20 clubs separately. They fear the clubs being unified and working together.

If clubs are stuck pointing fingers at each other on topics as ridiculous as who wants a 16-team or a 12-team division, they’re not focusing on marketing, collective bargaining or something as basic as the fact that the FAI does not have dedicated staff working full-time only on the League of Ireland, as Cork City manager John Caulfield highlighted this week.

If First Division clubs are serious about their lack of representation to the FAI, there is nothing to stop a mirror organisation of the PCA. I would expect that a single representative, bringing a unified voice from a First Division organisation, could expect a seat at the PCA table and at FAI/PCA meetings.

There are only eight First Division clubs, it could start with eight people. It’s such a small group I could host it in my house. Standing back and complaining that you’re not in the Premier Clubs Alliance helps no one.

A few phone calls might allow clubs in the First Division to help each other, and themselves.

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