Sean O’Connell from Cork City FORAS (Friends of the Rebel Army Supporters) was one of the guest speakers at the launch of the DFC Community Trust on Thursday night in the Lilywhite Lounge.
After reliving a personal nightmare in 1991 when Tom McNulty snatched the League of Ireland title for Dundalk at Turner’s Cross - “I saw Tom McNulty’s name on the wall and it brought back painful memories. My first real memory of going to a football match was when he ruined my day” - O’Connell went on to give an excellent insight into how Cork City are now thriving under fan ownership.
“Cork City are now owned and run by fans but it was not always that way”, he explained. “FORAS formed as a group in 2004 to help our owner at the time but also because the club was resting on one person.
“What would happen if he got fed up or got hit by a bus? One person for an entire League of Ireland club to rest upon is a recipe for disaster. That’s what got us up and running and we decided, like the Trust here in Dundalk, that a co-op or a friendly society was the way to go.
“Events then sort of overtook us. A hedge fund from the UK (Arkaga) then came in and took us over, promising us a new €40m stadium and playing Champions League football. It never happened of course. They got bored after two years and we went into examinership.”
It was then that Cork property developer Tom Coughlan took over the running of the Leesiders, taking them to the edge of extinction and giving FORAS the jump-start they needed.
“He (Coughlan) came in and ran up huge debts in the club. The club was a €1 million Euros in debt at the end of his first season. During this time, FORAS got our act together. We tried working with Mr Coughlan. We dropped ticket prices and took over match nights. There is a theory out there that supporters can’t do these things but who knows a match night better than supporters?
“Eventually we knew that the owner wouldn’t do a deal with us. He was liquidated. During this time we submitted a license application to the FAI and took over elements of the club that aren’t glamorous. We set up our own Trust, electing people from across society to our board. They were fantastically representative of Cork and knew what the people of Cork wanted.
“We got fantastic advice from solicitors and accountants, people of the community. Everybody in this room knows people like that or somebody who will help installing a pitch for example. We got our license and we have been running the club ever since. The most amazing thing is that we get to do what we want. We can reduce ticket prices, increase merchandise. Think of everything that annoys you about your football club? You can change that.”
O’Connell said there was no reason that Dundalk FC should not be a supporter run club with his passionate words receiving a warm round of applause from those in attendance.
“Who owns a football club”, he asked. “A person who owns shares in the holding company that is the football club? He doesn’t own the football club. Nobody owns Dundalk FC but the football people of the town of Dundalk. Who are the people with the blood, sweat and tears? The supporters. That is the attitude that we adopted in Cork.
“Who knows match nights at Oriel Park better than Dundalk FC supporters? Who else has the experience? You people, who have been coming here for 30-40 years or some property developer? You know what it is to be a Dundalk fan, better than anybody.
“I don’t believe that the people of Dundalk cannot run a football club”, he added. “Anybody who says that doesn’t know football. Think of the collective expertise in this room, think of all the people who have been to matches over the years. Are you telling me that you can’t run this football club better than one individual? I highly doubt that and I wish you all the success in the future.”