More Than Bricks And Mortar

Kevin Brannigan examines the threat to Dublin’s most historic football ground and how community assets from stadiums to historic streets are being preserved in Britain but levelled in Ireland.

It’s been a long recession and for fans of Irish football the ripple effects of the crash look set to deal them yet another blow as the bulldozers begin to creep ever closer to the terraces of Dalymount Park, long regarded as the spiritual home of football in the Republic.

In the late summer of 2006, in the same month as former News of the World Sports correspondent, Bertie Ahern, cried on RTÉ when quizzed over his lack of a bank account, Bohemian FC members voted en masse to sell off the ground affectionately known as ‘Dalyer’, their home since 1901.

With the bubble still expanding at an ever increasing rate the carrot for Bohemian FC members was huge – a new, polished 10,000 seater stadium near Dublin Airport and €45 million on top of that. Many thought the Champions’ League group stages were within touching distance for the club from the northside of Dublin.

But then that ever expanding bubble burst and one time high-flying Property Developer Liam Carroll, who ‘Bohs fans had voted to sell the ground to, saw his toxic debts swallowed up by the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA).

In the meantime, Bohemians Board of Directors had borrowed heavily on the back of the deal. While this brought glory onthe pitch with manager Pat Fenlon landing the club numerous pieces of silver-ware and into a position where they were just a wayward back-pass away from progressing in to a major Champions League tie, it caused disaster off it.

With the Liam Carroll deal dead in the water the club was left with no financial windfall or new stadium but debts to Zurich Bank and others to the tune of €4 million. In late 2011, Bohemians members, who have the ultimate power in this fan-owned club, voted to put the ground up for sale again.

Looking back on those tumultuous years, when Bohs tried to compete in the big leagues on and off the pitch, present club President Matt Devaney, who was just an ordinary member at the time of the land deals, said; “In a nutshell it was the failed property deal and to a certain extent our own mismanagement. We shouldn’t have entered into contracts without the cash”.

The mistakes of those years now look set to bring the wrecking ball down on a cultural and sporting asset. The loss of this old style football stadium, which was also the home ground of the Republic of Ireland international team for most of the last century, would be felt well beyond Phibsborough, the working class andincreasingly multi-cultural inner suburb in of Dublin in which Dalymount is situated.

Trainspotting author, Irvine Welsh, was a regular at Dalymount when he lived in Dublin during the 2000s. Talking to LookLeft, he said: “A Friday night at Dalymount Park, watching the game and enjoying a few pints in the bars under the stand, can be one of the best nights out in Dublin. This great resource for the community needs to be developed for its purpose, a home for football in general and Bohs in particular, and not sold off to throw up more ugly flats which are neither wanted nor needed.”

But there is hope for Dalymount, and other areas of cultural importance in Dublin, with growing resistance among communities to these assets being sweep by the continuing hangover among the financial classes from the Celtic Tiger.

Republic of Ireland v Italy,Dalymount 5th February 1985.
Republic of Ireland v Italy,Dalymount 5th February 1985.

Local Dublin City Councillor, Cieran Perry, said: “It would be an absolute tragedy to see Dalymount disappear. It is an iconic stadium with a real sense of history unmatched by other sporting venues in the country, with the possible exception of Croke Park. In historic, sporting and, just as importantly, cultural terms the loss of Dalymount would be a scandal. The cultural aspects of soccer have never been recognized in Ireland and the community value of such a facility in a working class area recognised even less”.

He added: “Dalymount is not the only important cultural and social asset in working class Dublin under threat from the developers. The historic Moore Street, the scene of the last stand of the 1916 Rising that led to the foundation of the State, is set to be replaced by a shopping centre. With NAMA, an agency which is at least in theory answerable to the State, involved in the both the Dalymount and Moore Street situations, if the political will can is there they can be saved. Areas of importance in working class Dublin must have protection against the developers and the politicians they finance.”

Legislation passed in Britain in 2011 offers a glimpse of what could assist in the battle to save community assets and areas of historical importance from profit driven property developers.

The legislation, named ‘Asset of Community Value under the Localism Act’, has so far saved Wrexham Football Club’s Racecourse Ground, the world’s oldest international stadium, from the grasp of property developers. Now fan groups at Manchester United and Liverpool are organising to utilise the act to stave off any future plans to level Old Trafford or Anfield.

Simply, the Act allows for the properties to be listed as Assets of Community Value (ACV) which means they cannot be sold off without community/supporter groups being informed and given a chance to bid; something that would require mass participation on behalf of any fanbase or community group hoping to save a football ground or area of importance to the community.

While the ACV may have come years too late for fans of Wimbeldon, who even saw a move to Dublin mooted for their club, fans of other English and Welsh clubs can now utilise it to avoid the disaster of seeing clubs treated as mere commercial franchises and removed from their historic homes.

Speaking to teh Guardian last year Paul Martin of the’ Spirit of Shankley’ Liverpool supporters union said the ACV application “provides us with an opportunity to influence any future sale of the club by being part of that process. Having been witness to a sales process that left us in a precarious financial position… we know all too well the importance of this”.

This has given some Bohemians fans, and local political representatives, hope that community pressure could yet save Dalymount.

Workers’ Party representative, Owen Martin, said: “The time though has now come for those who wish to keep that patch of grass from where Ireland took on the world, which has been graced by Zidane and Bob Marley from falling under the concrete, to make their opposition to such an event known. Areas of historic important socially to the working class deserve as much protection as stately homes, it there is the will it is possible for the democratic wishes of communities to be protected by legalisation at local and national level.”

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