So, Galway United- au revoir, arrivederci, auf Wiedersehen, shut the door on your way out. The recent off-season saga out West which ultimately saw United drop out of senior football provided the League with its latest annual embarrassing off field meltdown, and this one certainly didn’t disappoint. Firstly, we witnessed the unusual spectacle of the Western club announcing its intention to take a one year hiatus from League of Ireland football, following the breakdown of relations between the directors and the Supporters Trust, and subsequent withdrawal of their licence application for the 2012 season. A split of Judean proportions, the supporters trust GUST then sought to apply for a licence themselves and to operate as a supporters-run club out of Terryland Park. And while most of the Irish football community probably expected the FAI to lap up this proposal, it soon became apparent that the governing body supported the merging of existing clubs in the Galway county to establish a superclub capable of holding its own in senior football. Next up on the agenda, the powers that be decided that the way forward for football out West lay in an almighty merger- giving GUST the option to form an alliance with either Mervue or the men from Drom, Salthill. It seems Galway refused to follow the FAI script, and to their credit swerved attempts to consume their club amongst some mutated pan-Galway union. Finally, the Benny Hill sketch was completed when it was announced in January that SD Galway, a side that sound like something you’d catch off an Eyre Square brass, would be playing in the First Division in 2012 out of Terryland Park.
On the one hand, GUST have to be respected and admired for resisting the calls from Delaney and the money men to chuck their history at the drop of a hat and merge with another club- the shut it down and start a new entity philosophy- the default solution and Plan A, B, C and D for the movers and shakers out in Abbotstown as soon as a football club hits stormy waters. So often over the FAI’s 5 year tenure of the league, we’ve witnessed club after club simply give up, fold, squelch on their debts, re-emerge and try to pull the wool over people’s eyes by claiming in due course that they were the old club all along. It would have been an easy out for the folks behind GUST, in a last desperate attempt to retain some form of continued senior status. But then again it’s difficult to have too much sympathy for United fans. Let’s not forget, it wasn’t too long ago that they were lording it over the rest of the league amid the expectation that would emerge as a serious force in the domestic game under the stewardship of one Nick Leeson.
Whilst Rovers nowadays take stick for carrying the moniker, lest we forget it was Galway who were originally dubbed the model club within the halls of Abbotstown. The arrival of Nick Leeson in Terryland was bizarrely heralded by many in the game as a major coup at the time, perhaps by those affected by selective amnesia. Quite why a man who single-handedly brought down one of the biggest banks in Britain through reckless gambling was considered the perfect appointment for a leading role in one of this country’s football clubs, is beyond me. Remarkably, the good people of the Galway footballing public, the league administrators and people within the game generally were all willing to cooperate in and collaborate with this nonsense and charade. Accountability and transparency were the brand new tenets in the lexicon of the LoI, but sure, Barings Bank was a long time ago and no one really gives a Donald about what happens in the corporate world, do they?
To the assembled masses the message was loud and clear- it mattered not that your potential new benefactor or backer was a convicted fraudster, crook, snide, property “developer”, wannabe politician, carpetbagger, spiv, shady county councillor, asset stripper, gangster or creep so long as you and they were schooled in the ancient art of spin and propaganda, and could bang together a pretty boss promo DVD. And let’s be honest, with the spectre of a sugar daddy or high profile custodian being a precious commodity in the world of the League of Ireland, it’s not hard to envisage Delaney and his cohorts encouraging clubs to openly court the sort of human rights abusers, oligarchs and torturers that have over the last decade made various teams across the water their home, if it provided an opportunity of bringing a semblance of stability for a year or two to an ailing provincial club in this land. It is the unrepentant worship of short-sightedness and fleeting short-term “success” that forms the true orthodoxy of the League of Ireland.
Years of financial irresponsibility followed culminating in an annual ad hoc pay-freeze for the players, sometimes up to months, all with the tacit consent of the FAI who allowed the farce to continue without sanction or punishment. After all, these were the same clowns who ok-ed the unsustainable budgets. Squads were assembled that they didn’t have a hope of paying for, “earning” their survival on the back of the work of good, unpaid players. It’s all a far cry from the heady days of 2007 and their ill-gotten promotion, captured aptly and beautifully by a youtube clip that shows Galway and Rovers fans mixed freely in some establishment prior to a game between the two early in 2007, whereby a native of the West begins a chorus of ‘Let’s all laugh at Shelbourne’, in a rather pathetic attempt to curry favour with their guests from Dublin-Wicklow. Is there anything more pathetic than fans of culchie teams trying to impress their capital betters by demonstrating faux-hatred for another Dublin side? Well, who’s laughing now you mugs?
When all is said and done, you really do have to question the candour of GUST and their ambitions. 12 months ago, an opportunity arose for them and Galway supporters to start afresh without the baggage of Leeson and his crony board, when United were initially refused a Premier Division licence and were facing up to life in the A Championship. Back then, demotion would have provided a chance for those passionate about the club to take up the cudgels, clear away the excesses of the years of maladministration, strip back the costs and expenses, manage the debt and start again in the lower echelons of league football. Such a course of action would have been at the outset painful, but one that would allow those genuinely concerned about GUFC and their interests to put the club back on a solid footing, free from the manacles of the previous half decades mismanagement. Pop quiz: You’re a financially irresponsible, insolvent provincial football club starring into the abyss. Do you: (A) Seek to redress the problems of the past by establishing a new board and rebuild the club from scratch or (B) continue to prop up the reckless mad men that have wreaked havoc on your club.
It’s clear that relegation to the A Championship could have precipitated regime change out West, the smaller budget endorsed at that level being more manageable by a supporters trust than a larger, costlier one at a higher level. Take the medicine, start afresh. The previous board had proved themselves to be incompetent, and a genuine chance for a takeover by the supporters in the offseason had emerged. It might take a few years before they reach the promised land of the Premier Division again, but at least the club could have been stabilised with a view to re-building and most importantly preserved itself. At least they would have had control of their future.
Alas, Galway and their fans opted for the tried-and-trusted League of Ireland solution of throwing good money after bad, and sought to sustain the unfit, discredited board. The usual last minute melee ensued as an appeal was launched and ultimately won. Premier Division football in Galway in ’11, who cares how drastically ill prepared we are. It’s all about image around these parts, wouldn’t want to be losing your Premier Division status when your whole club’s future can be fucked away instead. Yet again, another prime example of short-term thinking winning out over reasoned long-term planning in the weird and whacky world of the LoI. It was to prove a pyrrhic victory. And for the reasons above any act of contrition or repentance on behalf of GUST now, is positively ersatz.
Galway is definitely one of the better aways, and a good spot to catch an ale in. But there won’t be any mourning here.