Ownership of a League of Ireland club does not make you an investor in Irish football.
“Not at all,” one proprietor told The Irish Times. “People expect a return on their investment. There is no financial gain. ‘Investors’ need to care about the club. It very quickly becomes philanthropy.”
And yet, crowds continue to rise at an impressive rate. In 2019, the turnstiles clicked in 375,705 spectators. Last year, attendances soared to 596,196. That’s an average increase of 1,200 fans across 10 Premier Division grounds
Despite new Dundalk FC owner Brian Ainscough describing Oriel Park as a “pigsty” and League of Ireland director Mark Scanlon warning that outdated facilities are impacting on the FAI’s ability to strike lucrative broadcast deals, people still want to spend Friday nights watching their local team. The paying public expect a few basics, such as half-decent fast food, access to beverages, usable female toilets and seats that don’t break on impact. They also want a child-friendly experience and cover from the elements.
Volunteers on the ground are doing what they can. Bohemians, for example, never dipped below 4,000 fans at Dalymount Park last season, despite the Phibsborough venue being reduced to rubble in places as it awaits €50 million in funding from local and central Government to rebuild an 8,000-capacity venue before the 2028 season.
Bohs, a members-owned club, put €100,000 into the Mono Stand, a covered terrace for 450 away supporters that enhances the already healthy gatherings in Dublin 7.
They are not alone.
“A lot of League of Ireland clubs are accused of a lack of ambition,” said Sligo Rovers chairman Tommy Higgins back in 2021. “You can’t depend on anyone else to run your football club.”
Rovers have invested €280,000 in The Showgrounds’ general upkeep since 2019 and received a €211,000 sports-infrastructure grant for floodlights.am.