BOOK REVIEW By Oliver Burns
This book is the perfect window into understanding Irish football and the circumstances it currently finds itself in. Whether you are questioning as to why the national team just cannot seem to get it right, or curious as to why the Irish clubs that briefly foray into European competition fall by the wayside, the answers are found in authors Mark Tighe and Paul Rowan investigation behind the closed doors of the Football Association of Ireland.
The Republic of Ireland is the only country with which the UK shares a land border with, our closest geographical neighbour, yet little of the Irish domestic game makes its way across the sea, with exposure almost limited entirely to coverage of international fixtures.
So why is the domestic league so forgotten in comparison to other neighbouring European leagues? Why have the national team performed so underwhelmingly since the departure of Jack Charlton? What exactly have the FAI been doing for all of this time?
Champagne Football picks up at the end of the Jack Charlton era and charts the rise of John Delaney within the FAI. He courted assistance for the grassroots game via financial support, endeared himself to travelling fans with complimentary booze and seemed savvy enough in the boardroom of older colleagues that he effectively took charge of most media-facing events when it would not be expected of him. He went from Treasurer to CEO and then the mercurially titled Executive Vice-President in his FAI career and along the way appears to have wobbled Irish football finances to leave them as fiscally steady as Bambi on ice.
Some of the stories you pick up from Tighe and Rowan’s impressive acumen of interviews will make you drop your mouth in surprise and shock at the sheer brazenness of it all. Whether it is the FAI staff forging Roy Keane’s signature onto shirts, including one hanging in the Taoiseach’s office, the contractual clause of the FAI paying its CEO’s rent, withholding Dundalk’s UEFA tournament earnings from their Europa League run, or Delaney being recorded singing an IRA song after a drinking session.
This book covers a multitude of schemes and stories all of which are put forward by the authors in a lucid and digestible account, something that cannot be said of the FAI balance sheets, and their characterisation of Irish football’s most powerful man is scathing to say the least, a position bolstered by swathes of supporting evidence.
The book concludes with a chapter devoted to the now well-known financial malpractices that occurred under Delaney’s stewardship, of which the investigation remains ongoing. They include the FAI spending over €80,000 on John Delaney’s 50th birthday party, a bizarre loan-sponsorship scheme from Mike Ashley at €6.5 million and the kind of credit card culture that would make an expenses administrator weep.
It’s a must-read account of football business gone wrong, dodgy dealings and flashing cash all in perfect detail. Champagne Football is up to date, thrilling and shows a side of the game that few journalists ever get access to.
Article from Libero Issue 3: Calcio.
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