Andrew Dempsey looks at the ramifications of the income received, if the Aviva Stadium should be sold.
Having seen Wembley being the subject of a huge bid from Shahid Khan, reportedly in the region of £650 Million, the FA were faced with the question of whether the injection of millions into grassroots football, would be worth selling out their national stadium.
As the big wigs at the famous old venue in London continue to deliberate on whether or not they should accept the offer, imagine if the highly-criticised Football Association of Ireland (FAI) had that type of a decision to make. While this scenario is probably never going to unfold in Ireland due to the current state of ownership at the Aviva Stadium between the Irish Rugby Football Association (IRFU) and the FAI, it is an interesting proposition regardless.
The Aviva Stadium, historically Lansdowne Road, was completed in 2010 after a three-year reconstruction of the famous old ground. While it was badly needed, the stadium has undoubtedly lost that infamous ‘Lansdowne Roar’ which gave it such renown and made it so intimidating for many a team that travelled to Dublin for domestic, and/or international fixtures.
The Euro 2016 home qualifying games, against Germany and Scotland in particular, were a trip down memory lane, but apart from that, there have not been too many moments of magic at the Dublin 4 venue. Perhaps that may be due to the current fortunes of the Republic of Ireland’s national side. But there were even darker days in the old ground, and Dalymount Park for that matter, and it retained its thunder and passion.
The current situation regarding the running of the FA in England is poles apart from the way the FAI is run. In truth, to say the FAI is run poorly would be a compliment to those in power. While there has been an improvement in terms of the overall administration structure of the organisation, there are still some gaping flaws attached to the much-maligned entity.
If we were to compare figures, in terms of scale, compared to the Wembley offer, the FAI would receive approximately €65 million should they decide to sell the second home of Irish football, with the real home being Dalymount Park in Phibsborough on Dublin’s Northside.
Even in today’s day and age, €65 million is a serious sum of money to invest in the domestic game. Any sort of investment in grassroots football in Ireland would be a gamechanger. Many clubs throughout the country have to beg, borrow and steal in order just to make ends meet. The standard of playing surfaces at all levels of football leave a lot to be desired, barring one or two exceptions, and that is having a detrimental effect on the standard of underage players.
As novices of the game, youngsters deserve the chance to play on a decent pitch. Too many times local parks have been used that are clearly not able to house any standard of football. From broken glass to pools of mud, how can we nurture fine footballing talent by telling them to play any old way they can on these surfaces? The answer is, we can’t.
In addition to this, there needs to be a systematic change in the way football is looked at in Ireland. For far too long we have encouraged a very direct style of play. Irish children, teenagers and even professional footballers have been indoctrinated into this way of thinking by a leadership that was fit for purpose 20/30 years ago, but not now.
To get out of that mindset, there needs to be a radical change in the scope of the FAI’s investment. €65 million could be the difference between getting up to the standard of play or not. Grassroots football is the most raw and beautiful thing about football in Ireland. Everyone starts there, from seasoned internationals to your average Sunday league footballer.
However, this is where we start to encounter issues. Can we inspire the next generation of Irish football without a national stadium? Children are brought up dreaming of the bright lights and awe-inspiring experiences of massive stadia.
If we have nothing to show them, what motivation will they ever have? In truth, they will probably just look at the incredible colosseum of Croke Park and dream of being a GAA star. This is also excluding the dinosaur views of the GAA who, standing firm on their policies, probably won’t let the FAI use their grounds, as seen with the Liam Miller testimonial fiasco over the summer months.
As well as this, the FAI aren’t doing anything near enough to show that they are committed to improving the player pathway here in Ireland. There is a complete over-reliance on English born players (e.g. Jack Grealish and Declan Rice) and that is holding us back significantly. There is also a poorly supported domestic league which was dubbed ‘The Problem Child’ by the FAI’s own CEO John Delaney, which clearly doesn’t help.
While €65 million would be massive, there is no suggestion of anything from the FAI which would ensure that they would invest much of it back into the game here, unlike in England. Chances are, that based on past events, it will go straight back into Board of Directors’ coffers. That is a shame, as the domestic game needs it more than ever. A strong national league combined with quality grassroot facilities result in a strong international team, as seen in Germany, Spain and the likes. Maybe, just maybe, with savvy investment we might not get a tanking away to Wales once more.