The League of Ireland soccer season kicked off over the last few days, meaning the players in the league now have an income for the next nine months – that is the duration of the league season. A vast amount of these players’ were faced with signing on the dole at the end of last season and this has led to the revolving door system in the league.
Premier Division Saint Patrick’s Athletic have a 21 man squad for the 2012 Airtricity League season; only five of whom were on the books of the club last season. The Professional Footballer’s Association of Ireland (PFAI) is the body responsible for safeguarding player welfare in Ireland. Their secretary is Stephen McGuinnes; a former Pat’s player.
McGuinness believes that nine month contracts “don’t allow the players’ to have an affinity with the clubs. It doesn’t allow players to love their club, clubs cannot survive on a nine month business model. If this was any other line of business it would ultimately fail.”
Football writer with the Irish Examiner Miguel Delaney believes that “while nine month contracts might not be ideal, they are at least a step along the line to sensible running of clubs.” Over the past decade; close to a dozen League of Ireland have clubs have flirted with extinction. Credit must go to Shelbourne for, in the height of the Celtic Tiger days throwing all their resources at trying to make their holy grail; the Group stages of the Champions League. When they came up just short however, the financial hit almost took them under.
The story is similar for some of Ireland’s other largest clubs with Shamrock Rovers, Derry City and Cork City FC all relegated due to financial turmoil. The latter did briefly cease to exist, though it, like Rovers, have been resurrected as fan run clubs. This fan run business model – where clubs spend within their means – appears to be the way to go League of Ireland clubs. Unfortunately for 80% of League of Ireland players; “living within your means” means nine month playing contracts.
The future of the league remains to be seen. Exciting players like former Manchester United trainee Conor McCormack is on a two year €2,000 a week (52 week a year) contract at Shamrock Rovers. McCormack is in the vast minority however, with 95% of players on season long deals.
Old rivalries like Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers will always be hotly anticipated amongst rival supporters. For the players though, it will be all about bringing home the bacon.