After a terrible season, Cork City is at a crossroads as a fan-owned club

After a terrible season, Cork City is at a crossroads as a fan-owned club
Cork City supporters look on as Finn Harp's goalkeeper Mark McGinley saves a Conor McCormack penalty. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

RECENT weeks brought us the story of the returning Glenn Tamplin to the London borough football team of Romford.

You might wonder why we’re talking about this — a multi-millionaire taking over a small football club. Big deal! Why are we reading about this in Cork’s own Echo?

The opening paragraph of the new ownership on the BBC Sport website offers an idea.

During almost three years as owner of Billericay Town, Tamplin signed Paul Konchesky, Jermaine Pennant, and Jamie O’Hara, appointed himself manager, left a game early for a business meeting and had his players singing R Kelly’s ‘The World’s Greatest’ in the changing room.

Tamplin took over Romford last week, sacked long-serving manager Paul Martin, immediately made himself boss, before signing 15 players.

“I went and watched Romford lose 5-1 last weekend and I didn’t see any heart or desire, there were only maybe two players that looked like they cared,” he told BBC Sport.

Football clubs are extremely fragile beings, and are becoming even more so in this age of hyper-inflation in the top market, that filters down throughout the leagues, and makes running a professional football club on a restricted budget an extremely difficult business, even when times are good.

Leeds United were probably the first high-profile case in England of a club tumbling down the divisions after hitting bankruptcy — Portsmouth the same — while at the moment we’ve had Bury thrown out of League 1 altogether, with Bolton Wanderers only reaching a positive points tally this weekend, beating MK Dons, a side born out of Wimbledon’s collapse at the beginning of the century.

In Ireland we’ve seen Monaghan United go to the wall, and pretty much every other club across both divisions skirt financial ruin, with the top four of this season’s League of Ireland Premier Division all seeing their fans stick their hands in their pockets to dig their club out after some terrible financial mismanagement.

We’re on our 13th iteration of a League of Ireland club in Cork City, the second under this current guise — the first coming between around 1938 and 1940 — and it’s fair to say the Cork City we now support could have been wound up, like so many others before it, on several occasions, rescued from the brink a number of times, including most recently in 2010 by FORAS.

Sadly some of the barely believable stories around that time cannot be committed to print, or at least not quite yet. However, City’s dedicated fanbase performed licencing CPR, and somehow we had 13 brave soldiers on the pitch in the Brandywell for the opening game of the 2010 season.

And from there all has been relatively dandy — under Tommy Dunne’s stewardship we gained promotion in 2011 back to the big leagues after earning back our identity and shaking off the FORAS Co-Op name.

And after Dunne clearly ran his course with the side, John Caulfield took us to the dizzy heights of league and cup trophies, and some enormous European nights.

However, as the 10th year anniversary approaches, with the former City boss departing in amidst arguments about the budget, some poor financial practices and over-ambitious predictions at the board level, and uncertainty over the club’s on-the-pitch future, it seems for the first time, Cork City — as a fans-run club — has hit a real crossroads.

With other clubs around the league in a position to put a bit more towards the playing budget — albeit in Dundalk’s case unacceptably at the expense of long-term facilities — the limitations of a purely fans-run club is becoming more and more evident to the members, regular and those who sit on the board alike.

In a sporting business landscape where domestic football ranks far down the list, one of the biggest problems the club faces at the moment is diversifying its income streams. Fundraising often targets those same supporters that already pay for season tickets, merchandise, and many who spend thousands of euros a year, travelling the country and (when lucky) the continent to support the Rebel Army.

The appointment of Paul Deasy as commercial and marketing manager has certainly seen some more outside-the-box thinking — the ‘Win A Gaff’ scheme which ran recently was a massive money-booster to the club, and was a perfect example of a fundraiser that had little or nothing to do with sport, nevermind League of Ireland football.

Schemes like ‘Win A Gaff’ come few and far between, and require a huge amount of organisation, planning, and buy-in from several parties to make it a success, and the big news within the League of Ireland last week may have some on an outside-the-box-thinking board stroking their chins.

Some €2m has now been invested in Shamrock Rovers by Dermot Desmond, in exchange for a 25% share in the club — the same amount as Sydney-based businessman Ray Wilson, while Rovers members still maintain the majority shareholder in the club with 50%.

In Brian Lennox, Cork City had quite possibly the best owner a football club could ask for. Could another benevolent local businessman’s extra investment be the financial push the club needs at the moment?

Mind you, if 25% of Shamrock Rovers is worth only €2m, how much would the same at City cost?

It’s just a thought ...

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