Tuesday 28 July ~
The voluntary stewards have been told to turn up as usual for Cork City’s next home game against Bray Wanderers, but they may yet have this, and every other Friday, off. At the High Court in Dublin yesterday, Judge Mary Laffoy ordered the winding-up of Cork City FC Investments Ltd, should an outstanding estimated debt of €360,000 (£310,900) not be paid to the Revenue by Friday. It is the latest in a long line of disappointments for supporters of the club; for older football fans in Ireland’s second-biggest city, it is the latest in a long line of clubs folding.
The club itself was only established in 1984, and it is indicative of the history of football in Cork that City are the longest-serving Cork club under a single name. In 25 years in the league, the club have won the league title twice, in 1993 and 2005, two FAI Cups (1998 and 2007) and, perhaps fittingly, are the holders of the Setanta Sports Cup, the cross-border competition. In a country where most fans get their football fix on barstools watching Sky and some league clubs struggle for four-figure attendances, City have in recent times been one of the best supported clubs in the league. When the title was won with a final-game win over Derry City in 2005, around 7,500 packed into the club’s (rented) Turner’s Cross ground, but since then it has been anything but plain sailing.
At the end of the following season, chairman Brian Lennox, who had struggled to bankroll the club, announced that he had sold to a man called Jim Little who, we were told, was a lifelong fan. Fast-forward a few months and Little had “rolled his investment into” (or had all along been an employee of) Arkaga, a London-based hedge fund firm, and was last seen trying to buy Swindon Town. Why Arkaga thought they could do what nobody had done before and earn a profit from Irish football is moot, but despite talk of a new 30,000-seat stadium, it was no surprise when initiatives such as €500 goal bonuses led to the club being placed in examinership (the Irish equivalent of administration) last autumn.
From that, local businessman Tom Coughlan was deemed the best person to take over by the examiner, and with the club safe and the Setanta Cup won in November, things looked bright. Coughlan talked of stadiums with conference centres, new training grounds and eventually a Barcelona model of fans owning the club, but also preached that belt-tightening was necessary and that the club had to live within its means.
In that regard, sacking manager Alan Mathews in the middle of a lucrative two-year contract did not look like good business, nor did cashing in on the Kevin Doyle ten per cent sell-on clause from Reading for an estimated €250,000, six months before he was sold for £6.5m. Offering larger wages than other clubs for new signings or letting everybody in for free for a game with Drogheda United (held on a Champions League Tuesday, it did not result in a higher-than-average crowd) only ensured more red figures.
When the first winding-up proceedings were issued, supporters were not too concerned, assuming that a settlement would be reached with the Revenue. However any cheques to ease the debt have bounced, and the order would have been made two weeks ago but for the fact that the club had a strong social role. Revenue wanted at least half of the €360,000 up front yesterday, but despite a firesale of Colin Healy and Denis Behan to Ipswich and Hartlepool respectively, as well as the proceeds of a friendly against Roy Keane’s new side, and the fact that a fans' trust has supporters' money but has not been asked for it, the demands could not be met and though Coughlan is meeting with the Revenue today in a bid to thrash out a last-minute deal, things look bleak. Denis Hurley