Attempts to secure club's future
27 March ~ In 2004, only Deportivo La Coruña stood between Shelbourne and history. No Irish club had ever come this close to reaching the group stage of the Champions League. A 0-0 draw in the final qualifying round tie in front of 24,000 at Lansdowne Road gave Shels some hope but Deportivo, who would go on to reach the semi-finals, were too strong for their opponents. In the Riazor, Shels held out for the first half before Victor Sanchez put the home team ahead after an hour and they went on to win 3-0.
Nine years on and many fans still wonder what would life be like now if Shels had beaten Deportivo. Now Dublin's second-oldest club (founded five years after Bohemians, in 1895) live a very different existence to the one which saw them win five league titles between 2000 and 2006. The latter was the year that it all changed. Shelbourne, the Premier Division champions, were demoted as overspending with the aim of making it in to the Champions League caught up with them. In essence, Shels gambled and lost.
Attendances rapidly dwindled as the club's title-winning players (including Norwich City's Wes Hoolahan) left. Manager Dermot Keely assembled a threadbare squad in two weeks before the 2007 season but four long years of languishing in the First Division followed. The club's promotion back to the Premier Division in 2011 has not been the panacea many hoped it would be. Shels still struggle with relatively low attendances and crippling financial problems – a legacy of their 2006 meltdown.
It is in this light that the 1895 Trust hopes to inject some much-needed solidity into Ireland's second most successful club. The Trust was initially mooted in October 2012 by a group of fans and will launch this Thursday. With the club's future at Tolka Park and prospects for growth both uncertain, the organisation aims to follow the lead of successful groups such as FORAS at Cork City as well as English examples AFC Wimbledon and FC United.
Seeing supporter ownership as a solution to all the club's problems would be naive but there is cautious optimism that the trust can secure Shelbourne's future. Over 100 people have already expressed an interest in joining and membership will open tomorrow – when several former players will help to officially launch the trust in Tolka Park. The future may not be clear for Shelbourne, but it stands a good chance of being secure. Niall Farrell