Thursday 1 October ~
While every derby is touted as “must win” for those involved, tomorrow’s match in Dublin between Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers may give the term a more important weight. Current champions Bohemians lie one point ahead of Rovers at the top of the League of Ireland with only seven games left to play. But it is not just the destination of the league title that could be decided – the result may be crucial in determining the immediate future of Bohemians given their current financial jeopardy.
The €250,000 prize money for the league winners would go some way towards easing the concern as to how the club can comply by the year’s end with the FAI’s demand that clubs spend a maximum of 65 per cent of their turnover on wages. In July Bohemians put up a fine showing against Red Bull Salzburg when only a last-minute goal prevented them from progressing from the Champions League second qualifying round. But the post-match talk was not of the great opportunity for one of the best Irish teams in recent memory to represent themselves on a bigger stage but of the €400,000 revenue lost and the implications for Bohemians' budget for next season.
Accordingly for the significance of the fixture, Friday’s match is a sell-out and a crowd of 6,000 will fill Rovers’ Tallaght Stadium. But this level of interest is far from indicative of the league where poor turnouts and a lack of interest from the media – the match is not being broadcast in English but on the Irish language station TG4 – means many teams are financially unsustainable. The three teams who won the league previous to Bohemians have been devastated by financial trouble – Cork City and Drogheda United are currently in examinership (administration) while Shelbourne are in their second season in the first division having been refused a licence to play in the top flight. Rovers themselves know only too well the implication of these financial problems, having scrambled to recover following a period of examinership and relegation just three years ago.
For their part, Bohemians are bullish about the task ahead of them. Manager Pat Fenlon and general secretary Gerry Conway have recently said that the club has no plans to ditch its full-time professional set-up, in contrast to much of the rest of the league, and that there are measures in place to ensure they meet the 65 per cent cap by the season’s end. But such talk is undermined by Fenlon’s admission this week that he had to seek charity from local businesses to fund an overnight stay in Derry following their 1-0 win there last Tuesday. With the FAI likely to tighten its licensing procedure this winter to prevent further upheaval, Bohemians should hope that the hotel break has served the team well – on Friday night there could be a lot more than pride at stake. Aaron Rogan