Takeover of Cork City does not reflect badly on efforts of fan owners

Takeover of Cork City does not reflect badly on efforts of fan owners

Stephen Mulcahy is congratulated by teammates after scoring for Cork City Foras Co-op back in 2010 in Division 1. Picture: Larry Cummins

IN VOTING for the proposed sale of Cork City to Grovemore Limited, it can be easy to question Foras and the fan-owned model that has governed the club the last 10 years.

The supporters' group, who took control of the club in 2010 following a two-year period of financial chaos at City, will be voting on the proposed sale tomorrow evening and it will need a 50+1 majority to pass.

In their 10 years in charge of the club, City has risen from the ashes and won a near clean sweep of domestic honours in Irish football.

The Rebel Army also qualified for Europe for five successive seasons, a run that included a place in the 2018 Champions League qualifiers.

As the success dried up, questions were raised about the playing budget in the club.

After such a shift and in the lead up to the proposed sale of the club, a period of soul searching is natural.

However, it may be comforting to see that the path City and Foras are travelling on isn’t a solitary one, but a familiar road in modern-day football.

Portsmouth are a club whose story nearly directly mirrors the one of Cork City.

The club from the south coast of England won the FA Cup in 2008 with a squad bankrolled by French-Israeli tycoon Alexandre ‘Sacha’ Gaydamak.

Out of such success came debts of £65m, but this was manageable as long as they had an investor. Everything fell apart with the onset of the Great Recession and Gaydamak pulled the plug, sending Portsmouth into freefall.

Portsmouth ended up changing ownership five times in four years. Through the deck of cards of owners, Portsmouth collapsed down the Football League pyramid.

Their saviours were the Pompey Supporters Trust who were formed in December 2009. Together they raised £1.8m from getting 1,800 fans to donate £1,000. After a length legal case over the value of Fratton Park, the PST became owners of Portsmouth in 2013.

Under this new model of ownership, Pompey climbed the League Two table and reached the play-off semi-finals in 2016.

They achieved promotion to League One in May 2017 by winning the league outright, finishing ahead of second-place Plymouth Argyle on goal difference.

The same month promotion was achieved, American billionaire Michael Eisner enquired about buying the club.

Eisner’s vision for Portsmouth was successful in convincing 75% of the PST to vote for his takeover. Two years later they won their first trophy under Eisner, by defeating Sunderland on penalties in the EFL Trophy final at Wembley.

The most recent example of this in the Football League is Wrexham, who are owned by the Wrexham Supporters Trust (WST).

Last month they voted overwhelmingly to allow talks that could lead to an entire takeover of the club to go ahead.

The same month it was also revealed that Deadpool actor Ryan Reynolds and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia creator Rob McElhenney are behind a bid to takeover the Welsh club.

Shamrock Rovers are an Irish example of this shift. In 2005 the Hoops were saved from examinership by the 400 Club who rebuilt and stabilised the club.

Under the guidance of the group, Rovers won back to back league titles in 2010 and 2011 and qualified for the Europa League group stages in 2011.

However, success dried up in the middle of the 2010s and they were forced to re-examine their whole model and approach. This led to a vote in 2016 to accept investment from Sydney based accountant Ray Wilson.

The fans voted in favour of a €1.5 million investment which was used to ‘dramatically upgrade the football facilities at Cement Roadstone’s Sports and Social Club at Kingswood’. Last year, members of the club voted overwhelmingly to sell 25% of the club to billionaire businessman Dermot Desmond for €2m.

For Cork City and Foras, the pathway before them is not as dark as some might think. Looking back, for a period Leeside was the football capital of Ireland but things, unfortunately, came to and an end. 

Looking at Portsmouth and Rovers, the way forward is possible. Whatever happens on Wednesday night with the vote, one thing is certain, the Foras model has been a success for Cork City.

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