An independent group of hardcore Irish supporters have raised enough money to pay for a plane to fly over the Aviva Stadium tomorrow bearing the message '€NOUGH IS €NOUGH - #DELANEYOUT'
A large number of supporters have contributed to the endeavour. Supporters from all over Ireland have donated money, along with disgruntled Irish fans in America, Australia, the UK, Canada and as far afield as the UAE.
A spokesperson for the group estimates that members and season ticket holders from roughly 80% of League of Ireland clubs have donated money.
Between them, the members of the group claim to have attended well over 500 away Ireland matches, taking in exotic locations such as Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Armenia and Serbia.
The average donation is €20.
The group insist they are keen to ensure that Irish fans remain fully concentrated on supporting the team during the game itself.
Therefore, the plane will fly over the stadium well in advance of the kick off and also at half-time in the game.
The move comes following a wave of controversy over the disclosure of FIFA's €5 million payment to the FAI. But this grouping's grievances are long and varied and include:
- The ticketing 'fiasco' ahead of the Scotland game and the poor treatment of supporters with a long record of attending away matches.
- The 'heavy handed' treatment from stewards in the ground and the aggressive clampdown on banners that critique the current regime within the FAI.
- The massive underinvestment in the League of Ireland.
- Corporate governance issues within the FAI and what they see as the lack of transparency at the highest levels of the association.
- Delaney's hesitancy about engaging with football journalists and what the group regard as his corresponding determination to cultivate his own celebrity through appearances in lifestyle sections of magazines and newspapers.
One of the key planks of the protest is the objection to what they regard as the shoddy treatment of hardcore supporters.
They are annoyed by the failure of the FAI to redress supposed flaws in system surrounding ticket allocation.
The ticketing arrangements for the game in Celtic Park last November remain a sore point. Many supporters with a long history of attending Ireland away games failed to receive tickets for that match. The supporters assert that assurances had been given that regulars at away matches would get priority.
Following the Scotland away match, the FAI announced their intention to found a group called 'Fans Direct' which would meet with supporters groups to improve the means by which tickets are allocated, prioritising regular fans.
The FAI informed fans via email that they would be holding meetings with various supporters groups and clubs in December and January to accelerate the process. Seven months down the line, the supporters say there has been no action on this front.
Adrian Heffernan, a 26 year old from Wexford who works on telephone support for Apple has donated money and vents his frustration at the treatment of supporters:
Despite being a season ticket holder at Ireland home games for the last three seasons and a regular away supporter since the European Champions in Poland in 2012, this was not enough to get me a ticket for the glamour tie against Scotland In Celtic Park in November 2014.
Since the Bosnia game in May 2012 I have missed one home game, a friendly against Georgia. In terms of away games since 2013, I have missed one competitive game, v Georgia in Tbilisi. Had paid to go and received ticket, but with new job I could not go. With this excellent record it was to say the least a major disappointment to find out on a bank holiday Friday by email at 8.30pm, that you would not be getting a ticket.
'Heavy-handed' treatment in the Aviva
This is John's house. You don't attack him in his house
According to Bolger, those were the words of a steward during the Ireland-USA game.
The group claim that Ireland supporters who have vented their feelings on Delaney with banners have been subject to heavy-handed treatment from stewards, notably during that Ireland-USA friendly, when fans protested the ticketing situation in Glasgow.
Banners bearing messages such as 'Delaney - Godfather of Greed' and 'Fans After Income' were removed by stewards. The fans say that when they quizzed the Gardai and the stewards on why the banners were being removed, they did not get an answer.
Bolger tells of one supporter who belted out a song criticising Delaney's regime was stopped by stewards while returning from the toilets and asked to give his name and season ticket number. The grounds were that he was 'singing a song against the CEO of the Football Association of Ireland'.
For last Sunday's friendly against England, the group say that the FAI placed an inordinate amount of stewards in the area of the ground where many of the fans involved in tomorrow's plane protest tend to congregate.
Bags were searched twice and the turnstiles leading into the section was filled by stewards and gardai, much more so than in any other section of the ground.
Bolger and Haughey believe this is entirely unjustified.
These measures were taken despite there being no track record of violent or dangerous behaviour from these supporters.
The supporters claim that there were more stewards congregated in the 'singing section' of the Irish crowd than there were managing the English fans.
Both Adrian Heffernan and Alan Connolly, a 35 year old Traffic and Safety Control Officer, have donated money and detail the heavy handed treatment handed out by stewards.
At the recent USA friendly and again at the England friendly, the treatment of peaceful protesting supporters by so called stewards disturbed me greatly. The man handling and aggressive tactics employed against peaceful and internationally recognised best fans in the world was disgraceful. I myself was a victim.
To vent our dissatisfaction at the ticketing fiasco (in Glasgow), we planned a peaceful protest at the USA friendly four nights later. Despite not breaking any rules, as our protest banners complied within the rules of the stadium, we were treated like animals. Heavy handed stewarding pushing and shoving us around, as we tried to engage in a peaceful protest. What a way to treat "the best fans in the world."
The Treatment of the League of Ireland
The group boasts a large number of League of Ireland devotees who are annoyed at the manner in which 'the difficult child' has been managed by John Delaney.
They cite the paltry prize money on offer for winning the League, which, in 2014, was less than a third of Delaney's annual salary. Dundalk received €100,000 for winning the League while Delaney's yearly salary is €360,000.
The group complain that the underinvestment and poor prize money available for League of Ireland contrasts with the punitive treatment of clubs for minor transgressions. Haughey cites the example of Finn Harps, a club of rather modest means, being fined €500 for coming out late after half time.
He says this amount is equivalent to the gate receipts for 50 paying adults. This, he says, constitutes a lot for a First Division club.
Alan Connolly is particularly exercised by this issue.
I donated money (towards the plane) as I am and have been bewildered for some time with the way that football is administered in this country. As a Monaghan United fan, I have seen first hand the debacle that is the League of Ireland, the fees that cripple clubs, the administration and red tape that makes life in LOI football an unnecessarily difficult chore. The slashing of prize money while our CEO prospers in a disproportionate financial manner is sickening.Our over reliance on English clubs to produce our players is soul destroying as our own clubs cannot afford to hold onto them once there is a flicker of talent. It needs to stop.
Board level issues
The supporters say they are dismayed by the manner in which the FAI is run at board level. They cite the decision taken at the EGM to extend the higher age limit for board members.
Years ago, former general secretary Dr. Tony O'Neill affected a change which reduced the higher age limit of board members from 75 to 70. This was done so as to generate more turnover amongst those who run the association and inject fresh faces at the highest levels.
The FAI were so enthusiastic about this change that they teamed up with the SFA to affect a similar reform in UEFA. This proved successful.
This year, the change was reversed by the FAI itself. Ironically, the very country that pioneered this change at European level.
The higher age limit was pushed from 70 back to 75. The move will keep the current ageing council in place. The Irish Times reported that the council members who remained in place thanks to the raising of the age limit tended to be supportive of John Delaney.
In 2014, for instance, Tim Fitzgerald (elected unopposed) became the first new board member in four years.
Further to this, the supporters are also concerned at the manner in which the expenses of the board members within the FAI are signed off on within the organisation.
Rule 18. Section 4 of the FAI Rulebook states that:
The Honorary Treasurer shall, together with the Director of Finance, sign off the expenses of the Chief Executive Officer, the President and other officers. The Honorary Treasurers expenses shall be signed off by the Chief Executive Officer and the Director of Finance.
While they stress that they are not alleging that anything improper has happened, they feel this does not represent an adequate 'segregation of duties'.
NOTE: Segregation of duties is a principle in business which the asserts that the sharing of more than one individual in a single task (such as signing off on accounts) is a necessary internal control to prevent fraud and error.
The FAI could argue here that the expenses of board members are indeed signed off by two people and is therefore fully aligned with this principle.
The supporters are perplexed as to why Delaney offered different explanations for why the infamous FIFA 'loan' was offered to the FAI in early 2010.
Bolger contends that this was in reality a 'Stadium Support Grant' which was only necessary because there was a hole in the FAI's finances and they couldn't afford to pay for the stadium.
This, they allege, is down to John Delaney's strategy of relying on the sale of '10-year tickets' to cover the cost of the FAI's borrowings on the building of the stadium.
These premium tickets cost between €12,000 and €32,000 with the price varying depending on the quality of the view.
Delaney reasoned at the time that there were '33,000 millionaires in the country' and that they only needed 3,000 of these people to buy these 'ten year tickets' on the basis that the average purchaser bought three or four himself.
The sales figures for these tickets were miserable. The FAI had hoped to sell in the region of 10,400 of these seats but an investigation by the Irish Independent found that they had only sold 4,077 by the autumn of 2010. And even that figure was questionably high.
It was around this time that FIFA made the controversial €5 million payment to the FAI.
For their part, Bolger and Haughey admit that there are mixed feelings among the supporters as to whether the FAI should have accepted the FIFA money but they claim it merely highlights what they see as a lack of transparency within the association.
Why does John spend more time in the lifestyle pages than answering football journalists?
The hierarchy's oft-reported unwillingness to answer questions is another gripe.
The FAI's AGM is instructive in this regard.
As Emmet Malone has detailed in the past there are typically no questions from the floor. Media organisations are not allowed in and when they submit questions, these almost always go unanswered.
The group cite Delaney's hesitancy to answer questions from football journalists from print organisations.
Bolger also remarks upon the recent story surrounding Delaney's contacting of TDs and Senators with a view to extricating himself from the chore of having sit in front of Dail committee hearing into the €5 million FIFA payment. This, he notes, came two weeks after he said that the 'FAI could do more to be open and transparent'.
They assert that his unwillingness to answer serious questions posed by football journalists is all the more striking given the frequency with which he appears in the lifestyle pages.
Bolger contrasts Delaney's supposed fondness for appearing in glossy magazines with the IRFU chief Philip Browne's low profile and diligent focus on his role.
We feel that he is constantly trying to further his own cause by appearing in lifestyle pages. The group feel that you wouldn't see the likes of Philip Browne (IRFU) appearing in the celebrity pages. He is fully concentrated on furthering his sport lets the strong performances on the pitch do the talking.
The group also wish to know why the FAI threatened to two publications (The Guardian and Balls.ie) with legal action for correctly reporting that he had sung the Wolfe Tones song 'Joe McDonnell' in The Bath Pub on the night of the USA friendly.
Next step boycotts?
When asked to instance any positives from Delaney's reign, both Bolger and Haughey are stuck for words. 'The stadium is in good nick' is the best Bolger can come up with.
They acknowledge that the issue of League of Ireland clubs running up big losses has been dealt during Delaney's time at the helm. The League of Ireland clubs still operating are more solid financial footing currently. However, they are unsure as to how much of the credit for that can go to Delaney.
Bolger insists that many of those who have donated money are hesitant to give their names, himself included, because they fear they will face repercussions from the FAI in the future, particularly with the away game against Poland coming up.
His fellow spokesman Kevin Haughey confirms to us that many of these supporters, some with block bookings and season tickets since the 1980s, are now on the verge of abandoning their season tickets.
Photo credit Independent.ie (Paddy Cummins)