Friday, November 14, 2008

After 21 Years, Its the Dawn of a New Era as Shamrock Rovers Finally Move Home

For those outside Emerald Isle, Shamrock Rovers are synonymous with football in Ireland.

One of the oldest clubs in the country—they were founded in 1901—Rovers have also proved to be the country's most successful club.

Winning the league on no less than a record 15 occasions and the FAI Cup 24 times, also a record, they were the first Irish team to play in Europe and the Busby Babes were their first opponents in 1958.

They even helped establish soccer in North America, playing under the guise of Boston Rovers in 1967.

The club has a rich and varied history and a constant supply of Irish internationals have flowed from the club since it's inception, but the best supported club in the land have also had their fair share of bad luck too.

In 1987, then Director Louis Kilcoyne sold the club's ground, Glenmalure Park, to property developers to build an apartment complex. Kilcoyne—who had bought the ground for himself rather than the club—sold it under everybody's noses.

Fans campaigned, some went on vigils and in the end Kilcoyne was forced to resign as Director. The club didn't get Glenmalure Park though.

The battle to save the ground was long and hard. Home matches were boycotted and for a club which boasted average gates of 25,000 in the 60's and 70's, fewer than a thousand showed for matches as the protests intensified.

The Kilcoyne family eventually sold the club as fans forced them out. But the damage had been done, Glenmalure Park was no-more. It was demolished, and so began the longest road to Damascus in football history.

Over the next 21 years, homeless Shamrock Rovers played in practically every ground in Dublin, and even found themselves playing a home match in Cork on one occasion. And although the fan base had been whittled dry, they never stopped singing.

Bitter rivals Bohemians, Shelbourne, and St. Patricks Athletic all opened their doors to Rovers at one stage or another over the course of their homeless run. And wherever they went their fans followed, as if the Pied Piper himself was calling them along.

In 1996 the club was sold to a consortium who, seeing that Rovers were the best supported team in the land, vowed to build a new 10,000 seater stadium in one of Dublin's suburbs, Tallaght. (pronounced Tal-ahh)

Fans were jubilant as it looked like the club were finally going to have a home.

But once again bad luck, bad planning, poor financing, and some gamesmanship by rival sporting federations would block the new stadium at every step.

In 2005, just when the construction of the stadium looked to be progressing after years of planning problems. Rovers went into administration.

After accumulating massive debts in striving to bring European football to the new stadium, the owners had over-stretched, and the club went in search of new owners again as it faced up to the reality of extinction.

Facing relegation for the first time in it's history as the FAI enforced a points deduction resulting from the club going into administration, no prospective buyers came forward.

That would be remedied by the "400 Club".

A group of supporters who had been bankrolling the club as it went through examiner-ship and faced extinction, decided to become it's owners. The 400 club had been set up in 2002 to donate money and fund-raise for the club, it's original intention was to provide mortgage payments for the new stadium.

As the situation within the club changed, so did the 400 Club.

They paid off the club's debts and assumed control of the club. Each member paid £50 a month to finance the club. As it stands today there are 510 members of the club and it has evolved into "The Shamrock Rovers Members Club", who run the club on a non-profit basis. Any monies they make are pumped back into the club at various levels.

Facing life in Division One for the first time in the club's history, the club underwent a massive financial restructuring. Professional football was out as the team became an amateur set-up. Unable to attract star players and unable to pay them, the club sought out unsigned talent from the locale of the new stadium and promoted youth players from within.

Within one season the club had won Division One and gained their promotion back into the Premier League of Ireland.

But as things improved on the pitch, off it the stadium was facing a new threat. In late 2005 South Dublin County Council announced that they were taking the stadium and it's lands back as conditions for planning permission had not been met.

However following a public consultation process in early 2006, it was announced that SDCC would finance the construction of the stadium and Rovers would be installed as chief tenants.

Rovers were finally going home, again.

But, local GAA teams (Gaelic Football) began a campaign stating that if the new stadium was being built with public money then it should be open to all sports. And they claimed that construction could continue if they were allowed to use the stadium too.

And as a GAA pitch is almost 50-yards longer they argued that current plans could continue and no changes would have to be made, while all other parties involved in the consultation claimed that the whole project would have to be re-designed.

A judicial review began in mid 2006, the main point of argument was to see if the plans should be changed to accommodate the GAA teams.

The Minister for Sport waded in saying "They can't be facilitated in this stadium. They are simply holding up Shamrock Rovers from moving in. We have given the GAA their own site in Rathcoole [a suburb six miles from Tallaght] and there are 24 acres there to be developed and I have said that we will help them, but that's not enough for them."

The FAI provided financial support for the 400 Club, during the case. As the club began the long wait for the Judge to come back with his findings.

On the 14th of December 2007, Judge Murphy found in favour of Shamrock Rovers.

SDCC commenced construction earlier this year and Shamrock Rovers will play their first match in their new stadium in 2009.

Shamrock Rovers have finally found a home.

twitter / WillieGannon