Sunday, July 25, 2010
Shamrock Rovers and U2 Combine To Take On Juventus In The Europa League
Almost one year since they opened their new stadium with a friendly against Real Madrid, Shamrock Rovers will entertain another giant of European Football on Thursday as Juventus travel to Tallaght to take on the Hoops in the Europa League.
Rovers 1-0 win away to Israeli outfit Bnei Yahuda has set the club up with a bumper pay day against Luigi Del Neri's Juve side. The result sparked wild celebrations amongst their 100 strong travelling contingent in Tel Aviv, and is one more step in the right direction for the club who almost went out of existence in 2005.
One of the oldest clubs in Ireland, Shamrock Rovers are synonymous with football in the Emerald Isle. Established in 1901 the club has a rich history, winning the league a record 15 times and the FAI Cup a record 24 times, but all that almost ended in 2005 as the club were plunged into administration.
The road to ruin began in 1987 when their Chairman, Louis Kilcoyne, sold the most famous ground in Ireland, Glenmalure Park, to property developers for apartments. Having bought the ground with money earned from the club and his own private business Kilcoyne promised that the stadium would be the teams forever, only for him to sell it under everybodies noses'.
Fans staged a multitude of protests over the next year or so to no avail and the whole episode upset many of them so much that they walked away from football completely.
Despite being homeless, Rovers were still one of the biggest draws in the league and in 1996 a consortium of businessmen bought the club and vowed to move them to a new 10,000 seater stadium in the suburb of Tallaght in Dublin.
The largely working class area was one of the great untapped districts in Ireland, being so large that it has a greater population than every city in Ireland bar Dublin, but was only considered a village.
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.
In the 2009 season, the Airtricity League runs from March to November, Shamrock Rovers pushed the reigning champions Bohemian's all the way to the wire only to stumble in the finishing straight as the ended up second in the league.
It was yet another step in the right direction for a club that are now hailed as the example of how to run a club in Ireland.
In the off season, the board and manager resisted the urge to go full-time professional as they feel the club still have some way to go before they become financially solid enough for such an endeavour.
The club lay claim to the best supported team in Ireland, a guaranteed 5,000 to 6,000 per week and want to complete the construction of their stadium to 10,000 before they consider such a move.
For matches like the Real Madrid friendly last year, Cristiano Ronaldo's debut, the Hoops installed temporary bucket seats which are allowed under UEFA rules in friendlies, but not competitive matches. The Tallaght Stadium is open at either end behind the goal and for the visit of Los Blancos the capacity was increased from 6,000 to 8,000.
With Juve coming on Thursday the club has lobbied to UEFA to ask if the capacity can be increased to 10,000.
However, there have been exceptions to this rule and although Rovers received an initial "no" from UEFA in early discussions, they are hopeful that Michel Platini's association will be sympathetic.
The Hoops have already earned around €600,000 by making it this far in the competition and hope to take at least that much again from television rights before taking some €200,000 to €300,000 on gate receipts.
On this point Shamrock Rovers deserve great credit. They could have easily used a bigger stadium in Dublin like the Aviva Stadium or Croke Park and had almost 40,000 fans at the game but they have decided that their season ticket holders deserve to be rewarded for their loyalty and will keep the match in Tallaght instead.
One man who is guaranteed to be at the match in Tallaght on Thursday is the current Ireland manager and Juventus great Giovani Trappatoni.
"Man for man Juventus have better quality players," he said. "But Shamrock Rovers, they are well organised and will be motivated as they are in the middle of their season. That will count for a lot in the game and I am sure Juventus will not underestimate them.
"It will be a tough game for Shamrock Rovers as Juventus have excellent players throughout their team.
"Alessandro Del Piero can change a game in a split second with a piece of skill. But if Rovers are not overawed by the challenge, then they have a chance."
Italy has just come away from their worst World Cup in living memory after they were dumped out of the competition in the first stage, without a win, bottom of the group, and behind New Zealand.
The Azzurri had a large contingent of Juve players in their squad and there is a very real fear that a hangover from South Africa could be carried over into the match with Rovers.
Such is the gulf in finances between the two teams, Rovers' players average wage is €300 per week while Juventus' players is €60,000 that one would have to put Juve as overwhelming favourites with players like Buffon and Diego easily taking home seven figures a year.
However, Luigi Bel Neri, manager of The Old Lady, seems to be aware of the challenge awaiting his team.
"We saw at the World Cup with New Zealand that they could create physical problems. To face a tough team from a tough league like the Irish one - nothing is already decided," he told www.juventusmember.com . "The next round in the Europa League is not a given because we'll be playing 11 against 11."
Dublin is counting down to the visit by Juventus, in all reality the Old Lady should have too much for Shamrock Rovers over the two legs, especially as the return leg is in Italy.
However, in an ironic twist the match will not be played at Juve's Stadio Olimpico in Turin as the ground will be over run by another Irish team on the night of the return leg, U2 will own the Stadio as part of their U2 360° Tour.
Meaning that the return leg will be 300km away in Modena at the 20,000 Stadio Alberto Braglia.
As far as Shamrock Rovers is concerned it is just another away fixture, however, for Juventus the game becomes another away game and if Rovers can come away on Thursday with a credible result the match is ideally set up for one of the biggest shocks in European football of all time.