‘We must resist ‘gun to the head’ approach to all island League’: Pat Fenlon

Pat Fenlon, pictured leading Derry City out onto Brandywell for the Setanta Cup clash with Linfield in March 2007, believes an All Island League could benefit both the Irish League and League of Ireland.
Pat Fenlon, pictured leading Derry City out onto Brandywell for the Setanta Cup clash with Linfield in March 2007, believes an All Island League could benefit both the Irish League and League of Ireland.

PAT FENLON has urged League of Ireland clubs not to give up on the ambitious All-Island League proposals and resist the FAI’s ‘gun to the head’ approach.

Linfield’s general manager has extensive knowledge of both the Irish League and League of Ireland, having also played for the Blues during two spells in the mid-90s and managed Shamrock Rovers, Shelbourne, Bohemians and Derry City during a successful coaching career.

And the Dubliner has warned that if the clubs fail to pursue entrepreneur, Kieran Lucid’s proposals currently on the table then an all island league plan could permanently fall by the wayside.

As it stands, the exciting venture remains a viable option but following Tuesday’s meeting in Tallaght between the FAI and the League of Ireland Working Group, a deadline of November 3rd has been set for clubs to declare if they are on board or not.

However, Fenlon insists the proposal needs time and more dialogue between the clubs north and south.

“I don’t see the panic or the rush,” said Fenlon. “I have an idea why it’s ‘gun to the head’ time and a case of make your mind up but I think the clubs are well within their rights to tease this out.

“At the end of the day they have to look after the club and discuss how best to structure the club and bring it forward. So I don’t see why there’s such a panic to get this sorted out by November.

“There’s a bit of time needed to tease this out. If you get to the point where you don’t think it would benefit either league, then that’s fine but make sure you have a look at all the options and see which is the best way to go.

“This would be a big sell for all the clubs and certainly a big sell for Linfield as a football club. I don’t know what the outcome would be from the club’s point of view. I know my own personal opinion on it but this needs people to discuss it further.”

Fenlon held talks with Platinum One chairman, Fintan Dury and ex-Derry City chairman, Jim Roddy in 2008 when the last All Ireland League proposals were discussed by both the IFA and FAI. Those proposals were abandoned due to a lack of support from the associations and Fenlon is fearful that if Lucid’s latest plans are not explored fully then it could signal the death knell for any future all island league plans.

“I think if we miss the boat on this one, given the amount of work that’s been done and it’s not just a pipe-dream, there are a lot of facts and figures behind it, then it might not come around again.

“If you tease it out and you can’t back it up then that’s fine but if you haven’t explored all the avenues and eventualities, well, then that’s disappointing.

And then you wonder if someone else would be willing to bring it to the table on the back of it being knocked back twice.

“If it’s not backed this time I’d be fearful that no one else would bring it to the table in the future.”

Lucid and his consortium has scheduled another presentation with representatives of Irish League and League of Ireland clubs in Dundalk on October 24th. However, Fenlon can’t help but think Tuesday’s meeting in Tallaght has scuppered any potential progression.

“I know we are due to go to a meeting in Dundalk in relation to it but it looks like that meeting with the FAI sort of scuppered that a little bit. I’ve seen the presentation and spoken to both of them (Lucid and Brian Kerr) at length and that’s what gets you excited about it - the people behind it are genuine and there’s a hell of a lot of work put into it. This just hasn’t happened over the last three or four months when it came out to the public.

“There’s been work going on for about 24 months in regard to this. That’s why it would be so disappointing to see it put on the backburner instead of exploring the whole situation.

“The game needs development, both leagues to be fair. And the one thing we don’t have a lot of as clubs, is revenue coming in to the clubs.

“If you look at even the smaller leagues around Europe, the TV revenue is much larger than what our leagues get. Why not explore everything and then make the call on it rather than knocking it back straight away.

“And the only reason for that, like I said, is people preserving their own positions and that, for me, is not for the betterment of the game on the island.”