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Dublin: 19 °C Thursday 18 July, 2019
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'This is not an anti-FAI crusade' - Niall Quinn furthers plan to change Irish football

The former Irish striker spoke of his ambitions for the game here at a public meeting in Dublin last night.

Niall Quinn in a previous role as Sky Sports pundit. He has since left the broadcaster and has concentrated on the Irish game.
Niall Quinn in a previous role as Sky Sports pundit. He has since left the broadcaster and has concentrated on the Irish game.
Image: Cathal Noonan

AS THE WORLD watched Liverpool begin to buckle and show the first signs of their possibly finishing third in a two-horse race, 60 or so hungry souls gathered upstairs in a Killester pub to hear Niall Quinn expand on his vision for the future of Irish football. 

“All signs point to a wind of change”, declared Quinn, with his parting invocation to “dream a little more than the guardians are dreaming now.” 

This came at the end of a two-hour event entitled “Making Politics Work For Football, with other speakers including SIPTU Deputy General Ethel Buckley and Niamh O’Mahony, former secretary and board member at Cork City FC and FORAS supporters trust. 

For “making politics work” read “making politics invest”, with Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin admitting that football is “politically limp.” 

Quinn agreed, but said it is incumbent on football to change that. 

His plan has had some influential support thus far, with five heads of education from various backgrounds, including universities, and three politicians already throwing their weight behind Quinn’s proposals. 

He is unwilling to identify any of those backing him at the moment, although may do so in coming weeks. Instead, he mapped out his vision and called on clubs and other stakeholders to buy into it, with the entire vision predicated on the League of Ireland clubs splitting from the FAI and working with a savvy commercial body to maximise potential television and sponsorship revenues. 

“This is not an anti-FAI crusade. What I’m trying to do is to try and get a louder voice, and finding out if it is worth having a loud voice.

“The game is not attractive now, for someone to invest money. Whether it’s the government or someone else, it’s just not attractive.

I’m not going to absolve the FAI entirely of that because they haven’t made it attractive, but I think there is a way to make it attractive and if that happened I think that government would be absolutely ideal [to invest]. ‘You’ve done it for horse racing, greyhound racing, GAA, and in other things outside sport’.

“That is my agenda. Nothing more than that.”

There is explicit influence from the English Premier League in Quinn’s vision for the commercialism that would make the league an attractive proposition. 

“In the first three years of the Premier League, nothing changed because the clubs couldn’t agree between them how best how to run the league.

“They brought in a team of executives who were not aligned to any club, put them in an office in London and all of a sudden you have this commercial genius pushing something.

“That’s the starting point: commercially.” 

Quinn also floated TV rights potentially being sold abroad. “Why can’t we have a dream to have our TV rights going out there and people watching League of Ireland games in Boston. Would they get up early in the morning to watch it? I think they would.” 

He also raised the possibility of a collective sponsorship deal for kits and other merchandise, as works in the MLS. 

The social value of his proposal was stressed, too, saying that it would be player-first, giving young players an alternative to the fraught lottery of trying to make it as a teenager in England. 

“I was guilty of bringing players over to Sunderland and cutting [short] their education. I sold a dream to their mothers and fathers, and that’s the bit I feel worst about.” 

The failure rate for these players is truly frightening: 7% of the players who move over earn a second professional contract with the club they first joined, and the PFAI estimate that 37% of players in the League of Ireland do not have a Leaving Cert, which correlates to the failure rate in England. 

Quinn’s proposal includes the ambition of building of academies at each club, which would keep players in Ireland long enough to at least complete their Leaving Cert. 

Tangible examples of government funding can do was furnished in reference to the Horse and Greyhound Fund, which is filled by a levy on every bet placed in Ireland, regardless of the sport. Those betting last night on Liverpool were contributing to funds for those sports, with a reallocation of at least a percentage of that levy to football spoke of as being possible.

The crowd fizzed with good intention and further ideas, ranging from change at the top of the FAI to a drastic reduction of the number of clubs at grassroots level.

Such a range of opinions and approaches shows both the desire and the difficulty of affecting large-scale change, with Niamh O’Mahony stressing the need for collaboration, and to involve all stakeholders – including supporters.

For now, Quinn is calling for unity among clubs, which would further strengthen the proposals he intends to present to government. 

Speaking to The42 afterward, Quinn said that those involved with him “have no commercial interest, they just want to do the right thing.” 

He clarified that RedStrike – a sports marketing agency which built a football academy in Vietnam and in August spoke of ambitions to build another in Ireland, with Quinn named as an advisor on the project – have no involvement in his proposal for Irish football and are not among the backers for his plan. 

“They are good people but they are not part of our group”, said Quinn. 

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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