Dundalk FC

Oriel's cocktail of Harp and wine - Interview with new Dundalk FC co-owner Jordan Gardner


Caoimhín Reilly


Caoimhín Reilly



Oriel's cocktail of Harp and wine - Interview with new Dundalk FC co-owner Jordan Gardner

Jordan Gardner. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)

The 1994 World Cup and Paul McGrath's incredible performance in the 1-0 victory over Italy in New York still resonates with Irish football supporters.

It may have been the last major hurrah for 'Jackie's Army', but it continued a whirlwind tale as the Irish team qualified for three major championships out of four. That period, USA '94 inclusive, helped fester a nation's romance with football.

The tournament was to be made famous by Roberto Baggio's penalty miss and final tears as Brazil took the title. But, this apart, it began something of a soccer revolution in the US. It also managed to enthral a young Californian by the name of Jordan Gardner.

"It was probably the 1994 World Cup that drew me in," the new co-owner of Dundalk FC told The Dundalk Democrat.

"We went down to Los Angeles for one of the games. I think it was the USA versus Romania and I think that really sparked an interest, both in the country and for myself.

"I do and have always had an interest in other sports, but soccer always, for whatever reason, after the World Cup, had a particular interest for me whether it be playing or now following it," he said.

Gardner, as has been well publicised, along with a group of fellow investors, recently acquired ownership of the Lilywhites, assuming control as the first foreign purchasers in the club's history. Having founded American ticketing firm, TicketArsenal, some years back, Gardner's sole business interest related to selling entry to sporting and other recreational events in the US. It was a company that he built from scratch.

However, over more recent years, his business interests have shifted focus with investment in soccer clubs among several other "fun projects" that he has actively engaged with. It's a transition that he speaks openly about.

"Growing up, I played soccer here in the States, kind of up to a semi-professional level after college and I had a real passion for the game. My Dad played when I was growing up so I came from a family interested in soccer," he says.

"From that, I developed a passion for playing and as I got older and had a career in business, I realised that there was an opportunity to see both the business side of the game as well as the technical side. Basically, I saw that I could make a career out of the game and that's been really exciting for me in the last couple of years.

"My ticketing sales company wound down over the course of the past couple of years and I was looking for new opportunities so I decided to focus myself on professional soccer here in the United States where I had an opportunity to work for a couple of clubs here in California and kind of understood what it took to own clubs, to run clubs and what it's like in the day-to-day sense."

That first venture that he speaks off was with a local team in San Francisco before he and a colleague took up the development of San Francisco Football Club. Their original aim was to build a club fit for the United States second division with a longer-term goal of possibly turning it into an MLS franchise. Unfortunately, though, the venture didn't prove as successful as they had hoped with the lack of a suitable host venue the main hindrance. That project was put on hold last September.

Still, Gardner classifies their attempts as being worthwhile considering the knowledge he gained having spent an intensive year studying other clubs and models. He admits the lessons learned could help in some ways with their Dundalk FC project even though there are little to compare between the outfits.

However, he was keen to stress one particular similarity between football in Ireland and across the Atlantic.

"In some ways, the US is similar to Ireland where soccer is not the most popular sport. Ireland has Gaelic Football and rugby and other sports, but I kind of enjoy the fact that I'm interested in a sport that not everyone walking down the street in the US is interested in at the same time.

"A good example of that was when I went to Swansea a couple of weeks ago; it was transfer deadline day and I was just walking down the street and two old ladies were sitting there talking on a bench. They started throwing numbers around and I was really confused as to what they were talking about. It turned out that they were talking about the transfer window and Swansea's dealings and how much they should spend. You would never see that in the States because the interest is not just quite there yet for soccer and coming over to the UK and Ireland, it's incredible to see the passion that everyone has for the game.

"Like, I was definitely blown away by the support of the community and everyone who came up to shake my hand after the event (fan/owner meeting) and telling me that they have been watching Dundalk FC games since 1965. It's just very unique and not necessarily something that you see in America or certain parts of the United Kingdom.

"It was overwhelming to see such a very passionate group of fans."

The mention of Swansea was an interesting one. While holding a minority stake in the Welsh side, Gardner has no operational control at the Liberty Stadium. Though it's an arrangement which he appears comfortable with as he gets to attend the games and enjoy the experience without having to worry about the day-to-day pressures.

However, this will not be the case with Dundalk, where his desire is to get "hands on".

"I'm the kind of person that if I get involved in something, I'm not going to do it half-heartedly. We need to be hands-on at Dundalk,"

"I'm very passionate about the game, I'm very passionate about this project and my personality, I feed off the excitement of the fans and the club and everything involved. I've already planned a trip out for the match on March 9 against Cork and I plan to come as much as I possibly can.

"For me, this is a passion and something that I'm very, very interested in. I understand and want to reciprocate the feelings of the fans and how they feel about the club."

And, this already appears to be something that he's embraced. Impressively, he watched each of the club's pre-season matches, either live or on video.

"It's funny, when we were in Spain and talking to Stephen Kenny, we just started talking about the players and the team and I mentioned to him, basically how there's a highlights video of all of Dundalk's games over the last two-and-a-half-years and of how I had way too much time on my hands, that I'd seen all of them," he quipped.

"Some of the staff had been sending us the full game tapes of the first couple of pre-season matches against Cabinteely and Drogheda; I watched all of those games too."

A lover of fine wine, Gardner, his wife and some companions bought a vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina a number of years back. The fact that he owns a vineyard raises quite a few eyebrows, he admits. But his ownership of it is merely down to passion with the produce for personal consumption.

His latest venture sees him take over a club at the top of their domestic vine, but bringing it up to Bordeaux standard and into the European market on a regular basis will require something of a fermentation period.

There's no doubt that Dundalk can offer him passion and, if all goes well, success, but a personal supply of wine is unlikely. He may have to make do with Harp instead.

Interview in print on Tuesday, February 13.