Supporters Direct are a not-for-profit organisation who promote the benefits of sustainability, community ownership and supporter involvement in the running of sporting organisations, mainly football clubs. Andrew Donlan met up with Kevin Rye of Supporters Direct to find out how their various Irish interests are coming along.
As of this week, the three League of Ireland clubs/supporters groups Kevin Rye advises – Cork City (FORAS), Galway United (GUST) and Bohemians (GST) – are differing in fortunes.
FORAS are readying themselves for their first season in the top flight having won the First Division. Bohemians have a massive seven figure debt hanging over their head and are now preparing for life in the Premier Division with one of the lowest playing budgets of the 12 participant clubs, while in Galway the GUST look down and out.
Having run Galway United on behalf of the board of directors last season, GUST withdrew their support and announced plans to set up a new club playing out of Terryland Park, the current home of Galway United. Their plans though now look in tatters, as it’s believed the FAI has rejected their licence application to play in next season’s first division.
When I put it to him that Cork City’s grandstand finish, swiping the first division trophy from under the noses of Shelbourne was a major success story, he agrees that it gave everyone “a nice lift.” However, he stressed, “That sort of story never fully justifies what we do; we must never say that (success) just because someone gets promotion. It doesn’t justify everything we do because we are not purely about results.”
He is passionate and assertive on that point, although the football fan in him – the one that stands on the terraces at Kingsmeadow watching AFC Wimbledon – eventually comes out. “The way it happened for Cork, the last kick of the last game, that’s why we love the game so much.”
When Bohemians come up for discussion – the reason he is visiting Dublin (while simultaneously advising his office on the developing crisis at Darlington FC) – he reveals.
“The situation was so terrible; I don’t need to explain how bad it was at Bohemians and how bad it still is in fact. But there was a desire from that group of fans (GST) and from individual members of the club and most definitely there were directors of the club at the time, who were trying their best to keep the thing afloat.”
What of the future of Bohemians?
“The aim is, I think there are other things that we need to do there, I think there’s a different legal model that we need to look at, that’s more akin to the Cork City model, which is more akin to what we have in England and Scotland, like an IPS (similar to a co-operative society). It would mean it’s a not for profit model that’s a bit more protective and it’s a bit more difficult to do things than with what they have at the moment, which is a company limited by guarantee. We believe it would provide greater protection.”
He also spoke about the courage shown by the often maligned Bohemians fans, or notorious boo-boys as one broad sheet newspaper once referred to them as. “When I went to Bohemians for the first time back in November, I got the sense of what a football club was. It was those people who were gathered there who cared, not only those people, but that was the very essence of the club.” And if worse comes to worst, he isn’t too down beat either. “It’s about giving it a damn good go and if you can’t do it with what you’ve got at the moment, you recreate it. Like what we did back home with Wimbledon. That’s really why Bohemians still exists as a club; the fans have the force of will.”
The situation in Galway is more precarious. The GUST are currently believed to be locked in talks with Galway’s two other League of Ireland clubs, Mervue United and Salthill Devon. The talks centre around a possible merger, with the FAI acting as intermediaries. But as a Kevin outlines, the GUST were in fact the model pupils in Ireland. “For that club to have continued over last season was a remarkable feat. They did things in the right way, they behaved in the right way, the way they acted towards their local community was absolutely spot on and they pulled people together behind them. This has shown in everything they’ve done over the last couple of months in pursuit of a licence, they embody the sort of spirit of what we do.”
Not mincing his words, he reveals, “Even under at times the most severe of attack from people who know who they are, who were in positions of authority at the football club, who arguably have brought it to the brink – will have no doubt they brought it to the brink in their decision making – under serve attack at times from those people, they still managed to do things the right way. To have dignity about the way they did things and sometimes had to argue their case very strongly and stick up for their football club, if they get their wish and if they compete next season they’ll be a model football club, I have no doubt. What they have done there is something that’s very important for the future of football in that area, whatever the football club happens to be called.” Talks regarding the future of the GUST in the League of Ireland are still on-going.
An extended piece on the work Supporters Direct do across Europe will feature in the next issue of LookLeft – out in mid February.
For more information on the Gypsies Supporters trust, visit their website