The Lilywhite Lounge was packed to capacity on Thursday night last as the DFC Community Trust unveiled their vision and proposals for the future of Dundalk FC.
Following current owner Gerry Matthews’ decision to put the club up for sale in recent weeks, the DFC Community Trust have officially expressed an interest in taking over the club.
Thursday night gave the group an opportunity to explain their proposals and listen to feedback from supporters and, speaking afterwards, DFC Community Trust Chairman Simon Blackmore said it was encouraging to see so many fans in attendance.
“I think it shows that the appetite is there to do something about the club within the fan base”, he said. “The passion is there. I was worried a couple of months ago about the apathy about the place. The fans didn’t seem to be bothered but they have become galvanized and I’m very hopeful for the future.”
The night featured contributions from Sean O’Connell of Cork City FORAS - who gave a rousing speech - and Lee Daly from the League of Ireland Fans Forum.
Blackmore was fulsome in his praise for both and he also paid tribute to Supporters Direct – an organisation endorsed by UEFA to provide support and assistance to fan run clubs - for their assistance in recent months.
“I think Cork City is a template for us to follow”, he said. “These things don’t work the same way for every club but Cork City FORAS are a great example to us.
“Supporters Direct have also been a great help to us and they have given us plenty of background information on how to run a club. This is the way of the future to run a football club”, he added. “That’s what Supporters Direct are preaching around Europe through UEFA at the minute.”
Supporters can become a member of the DFC Community Trust by paying a €10 annual membership fee. This fee entitles members to a vote.
“The €10 fee is not for fundraising”, explained Blackmore. “You need to apply a membership fee under the terms of a co-op which we have become in recent weeks. We set it at €10 because even in today’s straightened times hopefully it shouldn’t be too onerous on people to sign up.”
The Trust are due to meet with Gerry Matthews’ auditors in the coming weeks. When the Trust has studied the figures, its members will vote on whether they should proceed with a takeover.
“We’ll have to carry out due diligence”, said Blackmore. “If the numbers are realistic then we will sit down and study it very carefully and see what we can do. We’ve heard figures and if they are not far off the mark then it is manageable but it only takes one creditor to come out of the woodwork and you’re back to square one.
“Any takeover and how much debt we can take on depends on the membership. We will provide as full a set of figures as we can for people to make an informed choice. They will ratify everything so the more people that sign up the better”.
Matthews has set a deadline of July 31 for expressions of interest in the club. The Trust are one of two parties to have made their intentions known. The other group is believed to be a local consortium, including individuals from Fastfix, who had an offer for the club rejected by Matthews last year.
Blackmore said that the Trust have left the door open to working with the other interested party. The Trust and Fastfix held negotiations at the end of last season before Matthews decided he wanted to stay in control of the club.
“With a strong supporters trust in place we can be successful in a fan ownership capacity or successful as a partner. I think we have good relationships with everybody. We have a level of trust we are happy with”, said Blackmore. “We’re looking at all options. Whatever is in the best interests of the club is the road we will go down.
“It’s difficult to say what the reaction has been from the owner to our offer because we haven’t really had that much contact with him since our expression of interest went in but Gerry wants out, more than he did last season.
“Time is of the essence though. We gave the club a deadline - before it was up for sale - of the end of August. I think if it goes any further than that it will be hard to rectify anything license wise before the start of next season”.
With memories of Matthews’ U-turn at the end of last season still fresh in the memory, Blackmore admits it would be a “nightmare” scenario if the current owner again declines the offers put in front of him.
“We have been looking at all possibilities and the nightmare scenario is that we can’t do it and a second party can’t do it and Gerry Matthews decides that he doesn’t want to be here in October and – as he has said – he doesn’t renew the license. It’s the armageddon situation but hopefully it’s something we won’t have to look at down the line.”