A failure to attract new supporters because of ancient, sub-standard facilities is the League of Ireland’s biggest problem, according to Paul Johnston.
The League of Ireland has been under the control of the FAI since 2006 and although Johnston believes it has improved from a commercial aspect, he feels the league will never be able to entice new fans if stadiums around the country are not upgraded.
“What the FAI have done for the clubs, with regards television has been great. They have that leverage with RTE that the clubs just wouldn’t have on their own,” said Johnston.
“But, the one thing I would have loved to see them doing was to help clubs from an infrastructure point of view,” he continued.
“In my first few years in the job with Dundalk they did try and work with individual clubs to try and bring their facilities up to scratch. Unfortunately the finances aren’t there so they haven’t been able to finish that capital programme.
“We are in changed times. You want to attract new fans, new sponsors and families to games but if you have a stadium that doesn’t match up to other facilities then you can’t do that. If you go to the theatre or stadiums in other sports, you have great facilities. With football clubs in Ireland that just isn’t the case.
“You think of grounds like Tolka Park and - the one that sticks out for me - Dalymount Park. That was a great arena to watch a match in the past but it is now completely derelict in some places.
“The away section at Oriel Park is another example. We say it every year, ‘wouldn’t it be great to put a roof or a stand in that part of the ground’ but the clubs face a balancing act, do they put the money in to the players on the pitch or the facilities off the field?
“If the clubs, with the help of the FAI or maybe government grants in the future, could improve their stadium then they could attract more supporters.”
Johnston also feels that the withdrawal of funding for the Club Promotion Officer role is something that will hinder the growth of clubs going forward.
“Some clubs have looked at this position and tried to make their own commitments to fill the post,” he said.
“Dundalk have made great strides with that. Martin Connolly has been doing a great job as the Head of Youth Development and Liam Burns has come is as the Community Officer and is a great addition.
“The stuff that Liam does, going into schools and putting on training sessions doesn’t pay off today or tomorrow but it will throughout the years. The FAI deciding to pull that whole area was very disappointing.”