A FURIOUS Declan Devine has hit out at Irish Sports Minister, Shane Ross for his comments about the League of Ireland and blasted the FAI for jeopardising the future of Irish football.
The Derry City manager, who fears for the future of the league in the wake of the current FAI scandal, has called for those responsible to be held accountable for “putting hundreds of people’s livelihoods at risk”.
The FAI and its failings were laid bare by the Sports Minister at the Oireachtas Sports Committee meeting on Monday where Mr Ross confirmed the League of Ireland’s governing body had requested €18m from the government to bail them out.
Comments from Mr Ross claiming that “If the FAI goes, the League of Ireland goes the same way,” incensed Devine who claims it’s the Sports Minister’s job to represent the interests of players and staff from clubs in the League of Ireland.
“It’s incredible! I don’t know where it stops,” said the Derry boss. “It’s at the stage now where you are just waiting to hear something worse and worse every single day. There seems to be no end to the trouble that’s coming our way.
“You see the quality people working within the League of Ireland who are trying to structure Irish football for the next couple of generations and the powers that be are showing it such a lack of respect. That’s what I’m angry about.
“The Sports Minister will go back to his government-funded job and he’ll be okay. There are hundreds of players in the League of Ireland who are relying on a source of income for their professionalism.
“The Sports Minister can say what he wants but ultimately the Sports Minister shouldn’t have allowed the FAI to find itself in the position they are in.
“Why is the Sports Minister saying it now? Has there not been a duty of care over the last 10 years? Have they not been on top of it?
“Everybody has to be answerable to somebody. The Sports Minister can’t just sit back and say, ‘Ah well, we should scrap the FAI and the League of Ireland’. He has to do his job and make sure the people he is representing are covered.
“Now we’re worried there might not even be a league. Somebody, somewhere is going to have to be held accountable for it.
“I’m a manager and if I’m not doing my job right I get sacked. I lose my job.
“We can’t be sitting nine weeks before the season starts with people saying it might not even go ahead. Really?
“It’s not a pub league. It’s a professional football league in Ireland. This is people’s lives!
“If people think it’s just the dirt on the end of their shoe then it’s going to be a horrendous future for Irish football,” warned Devine.
The future of the SSE Airtricity League will be among the topics discussed in a scheduled meeting between the Irish Government and UEFA next month and Devine hopes the league and its stakeholders will be treated with the respect they deserve.
In a worst-case scenario the FAI will fold and Irish clubs, including Derry, could be banned from participating in Europe for up to five years. However, Devine doesn’t believe any consequences will be that drastic.
“That’s the worry,” he admitted. “I really hope it doesn’t come to the level people are saying it could but when it’s being discussed in the Dáil by the Sports Minister, it’s very worrying.
“The League of Ireland is an unbelievable league to be involved in and work in. When you see the big crowds at the Brandywell, at the Aviva, and see the success of teams in Europe. And we’re just treated abysmally by the powers that be.
“Players are 12 weeks without money, they’re sacrificing a lot but the league doesn’t seem to get the respect it deserves at times. What we need is the guys wearing the suits, the guys earning the big money, to understand they’re dealing with people’s careers and lives.
“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think it will ever get to the stage where the League of Ireland will be ripped up. What I would like to see is a bit more respect for the league, a bit more respect for the people working in it.
“Everybody, particularly at our club, who are working so hard, the chairman who is investing in a product to provide for the people of Derry and then for it to be treated like this. We don’t even know if the league will go ahead, it’s just ludicrous. It makes me very angry.
“Don’t get me wrong, there are so many good people responsible for running the league.
“The actual governing body though, for it to be in so much trouble when it affects so many people, it’s scandalous.
“I was a firm backer of an All Ireland League but with TDs saying the league might be scrapped, this is people’s futures. It’s horrendous.
“I’ve been at Derry City Football Club for 15 years but we’re still in the same spot. How many kicks do you have to take?
“How many more slaps across the face do supporters, players, chairmen, investors have to take? It’s only a number of years ago they offered £5,000 grants to clubs - really? When we have people putting hundreds of thousands of pounds in to make sure clubs are sustainable!
“It’s got to the stage where it’s beyond a joke and until someone somewhere steps up and puts a proper working plan in place then the future doesn’t look good.
“It almost feels as if the league is a burden to the association. When you look at the money that has been wasted yet players are giving everything for 40 weeks, maybe going 10 or 12 weeks without wages, and clubs are still providing players for the international set-up on a steady basis.
“The league brings so much entertainment. Just look at the FAI Cup final where there were over 30,000 people at the ground and players are getting pittance.”
When contacted about Devine's comments, a spokesperson from the FAI said the association would decline to comment on the matter.
In a statement by Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Mr Ross, T.D., he insisted the department 'are enormously concerned about the future of the League of Ireland, the 300 players, 300 support staff and its supporters.'
"In light of this week’s revelations about the state of the FAI’s finances, a number of new scenarios have been raised," it read.
"The Ministers understand that the insolvency of a national football federation in Europe would be an unprecedented situation and thus it is not completely clear what implications this would have for the relevant national league and consequently international teams.
"It is the understanding of the Department that if the national association failed, the national league would be impacted and would cease to exist in its current format.
"However, we understand that League of Ireland clubs would be in a position to rebound quickly and fulfil fixtures if such a failure were to occur in the FAI. In that case, it would avoid a scenario where national teams would be precluded from international competition, provided a replacement national federation would be in place.
"The Ministers are seeking to clarify this matter with UEFA in advance of their upcoming meeting next month. The Ministers recognise the need to have certainty around this point as a matter of urgency and hope that it will be possible for UEFA to provide certainty for the players and support staff employed by the League of Ireland clubs.
"The Ministers have asked Sport Ireland to arrange a meeting with representatives of the League of Ireland clubs and players in advance of the meeting with UEFA to hear their concerns and it is hoped that that meeting will be scheduled in the coming days."