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Kieran Lucid: Kerry businessman's plan to create all-island soccer league by 2021

‘Window of opportunity’ to revolutionise domestic football needs to be acted on by autumn, says entrepreneur.

Passion: Bohs goalkeeper James Talbot leads the celebrations after their derby win against Shamrock Rovers.
Passion: Bohs goalkeeper James Talbot leads the celebrations after their derby win against Shamrock Rovers.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

ON OUR LAST Tuesday in June, the days shortening – in a modest office within scent of Lansdowne Road – a man in his mid-30s from a little village in County Kerry divulged his dream to a few weathered hacks on how he would change Irish football forever.

Of the journalists there, I might be the one least worn-down – not physically but spiritually: being on the football beat in Ireland is something to which I cannot relate. My colleagues on Tuesday have as hacks known little else.

All their life, the League of Ireland has been one of the poorest in Europe, mainly derided – often by the governing body running it. Not for me of late having to deal with the everyday madness of writing about the FAI.

I try to be positive. Ever since 2016, when Dundalk competed irrationally well in the Europa League despite almost no financial support within their homeland, I have felt that we live in a revolutionary time.

Kieran Lucid, no League of Ireland man, became a millionaire in his early 30s. Over the past 18 months, he has been working behind the scenes with a squad including former Republic manager Brian Kerr.

He lights up when talking of Kerr – and clearly he was not alone in doing that. ‘Greener’s’ knowledge of the league, his Belfast roots and his general charm made him the nearest to perfect when Lucid strived to bridge the chasm between the young southern upstart who sold his data company and the grizzled representatives of an East Belfast football club.

The team also included: Brendan Dillon, the Dublin solicitor who was previously the chairman of the League of Ireland and a member of the FAI board; Ciarán Medlar, a partner and tax specialist with accountancy firm BDO who has worked closely with members of the Republic’s senior team in recent years; and councillor Mark Duffy, a talented goalkeeper from County Mayo.

Lucid’s general plan was revealed to the press at the weekend. On Tuesday, unlike at the Pyongyang-like FAI AGMs that became the norm, us journalists could ask questions. Some unexpected.

In general, the answers – backed by a presentation – were impressive.

Even if he still comes across as a bit out of his comfort zone, Lucid is positive. It is ever clear he isn’t a regular League of Ireland man.

How feasible is his consortium getting to €10 million?

“We’d be very confident about that.”

You said you got a TV offer of seven figures. That is without even competition against each other from the TV companies?

“Exactly.”

Are you confident the clubs will vote for this?

“Oh yes.”

The jolt comes from the timeframe. For this to happen, the clubs will have to vote in its favour within a matter of two or three months. This is because an abridged 2020 campaign would precede the purported utopia of 2021 thereafter.

“Our focus is on building the commercial proposal that we will be putting to the clubs and to the associations on behalf of the clubs.

“We are working towards an autumn go or no-go decision by the clubs. I would ask: why wait another year? They would have to justify the why,” he went on, giving the impression he is not going to be around forever.

“We have a window of opportunity with the FAI in a state of flux and the IFA set to lose a European place. It is focusing the mind; they are all thinking of what needs to be done.

“Over the next few months, we will be hopefully growing the commercial offering with a view to clubs not being able to say no to it.

“This is the greatest commercial sponsorship opportunity ever. For a company to be able to say that they helped bring about an all-island league would engender a lot of good will. I am biased obviously. We want official partners and then one headline sponsor.

“We view Uefa as an ally in this, not an adversary.”

Uefa will need to back it and the intimation is that it will. European places for the relevant clubs remains a grey area but Lucid’s plan is that the FAI and IFA cups will stay as they are, winners of both ensured a place in Europe.

The reigning acceptance that only four teams will gain European places in the new all-island league could be wrong. Lucid and his team will lobby for at least a couple more.

Duffy is a shier part of the team. He volunteered with the US Embassy and, like Niall Quinn’s consortium, has been tapping up American backing and getting a favourable response.

In the US, it seems, the Irish-Americans go crazy for anything to do with reconciliation. There and at home, he reckons, there is overwhelming goodwill – even more since they offered up an email address for people to contact them since the weekend.

“We are looking for hero sponsors to embody the project and bring it to life,” he says.

When it comes to the League of Ireland, the professional version of the most popular participation sport in one of the world’s wealthiest countries, we are a battered body. I write this by Connolly train station – could become busy in the next few years – and the man after which it is named comes to mind:

“The great appear great to us, only because we are on our knees.”

Talk of a €10 million fund for a cross-border league seems utterly fanciful to many in the game, those who have been battered to submission by supporting a league with almost no prize-money or TV money.

This is, let us remember, a league where the participating clubs do not even know what the sponsors SSE Airtricity pay towards it: such was life, confidentiality agreements and an autocratic regime.

We are almost fearful of our potential – and this claws a tale. I recently met a League of Ireland club representative who recalled the year his team had its best ever season on the pitch when the club sponsor’s fee was a miserly five-figure sum.

An employee of the club sponsor did a marketing study of the value of the sponsorship and came to a conclusion that it was worth over ten times what had been paid.

In recent times, it is commonplace for a particularly good League of Ireland goal (we are talking on the pitch now, and it is bloody good) – there are many to choose from – getting over a million viewing impressions on social media.

Social media costs nothing.

And there is data and expanding potential: Opta Index for the League of Ireland. Bookmakers are beholden. “Data exploitation is a value revenue source for leagues across Europe, and a summer league is an additional draw,” says Lucid.

After we met, Lucid – clearly active on Twitter – saw that I and others had suggested his 26-game campaign would be on the short side.

“We acknowledge the fact that 26 games is a bit on the low side for a regular season and we are considering different options that would bring this up to 30 or above. The Danish model of a late-season six-and-eight split is our current preferred option but that is subject to change.”

He has insisted that he will not pocket a penny from this – and one can only take him on his word. I do not know him well enough to argue either way. He is clearly no expert on football in this country (he seemed a bit thrown by the suggestion the Northern Irish clubs could struggle badly in season one); nor does he claim to be.

“Data is my thing,” he says, and his data tells him an All-Ireland League is likely to happen come 2021. It might seem fanciful, but you don’t take the words of self-made millionaire in his 30s lightly.

There are clubs in the south still trying to survive, waiting on last year’s prize-money from the FAI. And the mad thing is: the mess the situation is post-Delaney might render it minus the remit to sanction what could be the greatest thing ever for football in this country.

North and south.

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About the author:

Johnny Ward

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