End of road for FAI's much travelled chief

Email:

kevin@tullamoretribune.ie

“JOHN Delaney is a travelling salesman.”

The words of a senior soccer league official in the Midlands when the the FAI chief executive was touring the country promoting the 'Vantage Club', an ill-fated season ticket scheme for the newly builty Aviva Stadium in Lansdowne Road.

The Vantage Club was launched in September 2008, just when the Irish economy was heading into the nosedive which would lead to the Great Recession.

But typical of the man at the helm of the FAI, the sales pitch from Delaney continued regardless.

One evening he arrived at Leah Victoria Park, the home of the Tullamore Town, and spoke to a small group upstairs in the clubhouse.

In an informal meeting, he outlined the advantages of the Vantage Club as he saw them, including plans for new pre-season tournaments which would bring players like Messi to Dublin.

The price of the season tickets was jaw-dropping however – ranging from €12,000 up to €32,000 for a ten-year ticket for one seat.

The FAI put 10,000 tickets up for sale and Delaney travelled the country meeting clubs in an effort to get buy-in from them when it was clear that individual purchasers were thin on the ground.

About half of the tickets were sold before the scheme was abandoned and the failure of the Vantage Club is one of the reasons the FAI remains in debt to the tune of millions.

Financial issues were a feature of Delaney's tenure at the top of Irish football and his salary of several hundred thousand euros ensured they always would be.

He did take a pay cut at one point but was still earning about ten times as much as his footsoldiers on the ground, the regional development officers around the country.

And which group was hit when the FAI had to wield its cost-cutting knife? Those same regional development officers of course, who SIPTU confirmed had pay reductions of between 10 and 15 per cent in 2012.

In 2017 Offaly became one one of the last counties in the country to get an FAI regional development officer after the association co-funded the post with the County Council.

Earlier this year the Sunday Times reported that in 2016 the FAI paid €3,000 a month for a house in Dublin Delaney was renting, at a time when his salary was €360,000.

It was just one of many revelations which ultimately resulted in Delaney going on gardening leave before his resignation on Saturday night, announced by the FAI in a statement released after 11pm.

Yet through all the controversies, many involved in the administration of the sport at grassroots level stood by him.

They liked how he visited clubs, an estimated 2,000 in all (though that surely is a ceremonial duty more appropriate for the FAI president), attended social functions, bought drinks for fans and acted as if he was a man on the terrace cheering on the Boys in Green himself.

It was a cultivated image which served him well. Some admired the cutting edge to Delaney, the way he would deliver a remark about “that f....r Roy” at an awards dinner in Tullamore and then move on to oversee Roy Keane's appointment as Ireland assistant manager.

Others applauded his laddish behaviour, for example when he, in his own words, put “two grand behind the bar” for Ireland fans who had travelled to a match against Estonia.

“It might f....n' happen tonight, you never know,” he told those gathered at the Combined Counties Football League annual awards dinner in the Bridge House Hotel in 2013.

One of those in attendance shouted up: “Was it your money?” “It was absolutely. Unfortunately,” replied Delaney. “Did you pay cash?” another man at the event asked. The swift response from the FAI chief: “No, credit cards.”

That's how he was when in the company of what he called “the football family”. A different side was presented when off-the-cuff exchanges like those mentioned above reached a wider audience.

When the Sunday Times (the only newspaper other than the Tribune to do so) published his remark about Roy Keane, I heard through through several sources that he wasn't happy.

He communicated his annoyance to me in 2015, when he was again a special guest at the Combined Counties Football League annual awards dinner in the Bridge House.

During his speech Delaney referred to the “little bit of fun” he had two years earlier but said “a journalist in this room” used what he had said “to try and make a name for himself”.

“I'm a football man, I'm a passionate man, I'm a straight man. But [when] we're in the room together, we're together, and it's not for outside broadcast,” he said.

Later the same night Delaney told me he was “disappointed” that what he had said at the previous awards night had been reported.

He appeared comfortable in his position. And why wouldn't he? Though the night came shortly after the revelation that the FAI had received €5 million from FIFA because of the infamous Henry hand-ball, he was again lauded by his hosts.

Combined Counties chairman Jim Kelly said “each and every one of the people here tonight are behind John Delaney”. After being introduced as “our leader”, the FAI chief was presented with a banner with the following words printed on it: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and who shows the way.”

The Combined Counties (which oversees junior and women's soccer in Offaly, Laois, Longford and Westmeath) was far from alone in its attitude.

In March of this year, after the first reports were published detailing the allegations which culminated in Delaney's departure, the Leinster Football Association joined with its counterparts in Connacht, Munster and Ulster, and the FAI Junior Council, in a public statement of support for the FAI boss.

“All in the grassroots game are very grateful for John’s support and contribution to the grassroots game in his time as CEO and fully believe he is the person to continue his work with UEFA and FIFA matters in his new role as Executive Vice President,” they said.

Delaney's financially rewarding work with the FAI ended at the weekend. With a row going on this week over his severance package, just how rewarding it was, we don't know.

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