Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Trouble with John

It's hard to know where to start considering all that's gone on in Irish football since my last blog following the game in Germany. Work commitments meant that I couldn't make the trip to Glasgow which was absolutely gutting especially considering the game was to be in Parkhead which is obviously a special venue, being the only ground in the UK to fly the Tricolour.

As it happened, I only got to see the last 15 minutes of the game live as we frantically chased an equaliser to no avail with what would have been an og from a Grant Hanley header that came back off the bar being the closest we came.  I watched the game in full the following day and the less said about it the better.

While there is an argument that the aforementioned Hanley should have been shown a straight red for bringing Shane Long down early in the game and having been booked should certainly have had a second yellow for a blatant elbow on David Forde the fact remains that tactically what we saw was the worst of Martin O'Neill.  Had it been Trapattoni in the dug out, I've no doubt the criticism would have rang far louder and longer and improvements will need to be made before the group picks up again in March.

As I said as soon as the draw was made, this is a real group of death and with Gordon Strachan making a lot more of his resources than O'Neill is with ours we have surrended the initiative to a degree.

With Poland having essentially 3 bonus points from their home win v Germany it is now imperative that we take 3 points from them at home in March and I really hope that we won't be taking a safety first approach into the game.

I did attend the friendly against the USA a few days later and while there were encouraging signs from what was essentially a second XI, especially the debuts of David McGoldrick and Cyrus Christie (I really wanted us to get a penalty purely so I could roar "Let Christie take it!!!" but it wasn't to be), the big story of the night was what went on in the Singing Section with the OTT response of the Gardai and the stewards to what was a peaceful protest about the lack of transparency regarding the ticket allocation for the Scotland game.

At the start of the campaign, myself along with thousands of others had put in our applications for this year's away games on the new FAI away ticket portal.  At the time I was toying with the idea of going to Georgia, was definitely going to Germany and although I knew that Glasgow was unlikely, had also applied for Scotland tickets just in case.

I heard nothing back until I got a mail the week before the Georgia game telling me that although I had not paid my deposit (which I had never been invoiced for) I had still been successful in my application and could I pay up.  I mailed back saying that I hadn't received the original invoice and although I now couldn't travel to Georgia that I would happily pay the deposits for Germany and Scotland once the outstanding amount for Georgia was deleted from my account.

I got a response back telling me that as the portal was now closed they couldn't delete the amount off but that not paying the deposits "won’t in any way affect your chances of obtaining your allocations for these games". Having been told that I left it at that and when I was allocated tickets for the Germany game I just paid up in full and thought no more about it.

Although I knew at this stage that I wouldn't make the Scotland game I obviously still had the application in. Given the lack of any transparent allocation system and with my Dad, a couple of cousins and other mates who travel regulalry also having applications in, I was still waiting to see if I'd be allocated anything so I could sort out them if they were unlucky. I was surprised not to get a mail one way or the other on the Friday when YBIG, and everywhere that Irish fans frequent online went into meltdown as seasoned traveler after seasoned traveler got their rejection letters.

When I contacted the FAI the following week I finally got a reply after a number of mails advising me that they had "spoken with Ticketmaster and they have confirmed that as you did not pay a deposit on your application, it was unsuccessful".  The fact that this completely contradicted what I had been told a couple of months previously didn't seem to be relevant.

Just to be clear, I'm not being critical of the general staff in the ticket office.  I've been dealing with various people in there for over twenty years and have always found them courteous and decent to deal with.  Any issues with allocation policy isn't laid at their feet.  The above is just an example of how poorly the allocation for this game was handled.

The fallout from the ticket allocation for the Scotland game has been well documented at this stage.  I personally spoke to someone who had never been to an away game before but had got one of 50 tickets allocated to the club he plays for.  I heard another case where a club that has been in existence for less than five years received a similar amount.

There was zero transparency in the information that was given to aggrieved fans despite the statement from the FAI which read "“Of the tickets confirmed to date, 1,700 went to supporters’ clubs, season ticket holders, Club Ireland members and known away supporters. 700 went to clubs and leagues. The fulfillment of contractual obligations also meant that there were fewer tickets available to the Association to distribute directly for this match – 481 went to Abbey Travel for supporters’ travel packages as per contract (15% of allocation) as official travel partner of the Association, and 128 went to sponsors. The remaining 200 tickets are divided between players, backroom team, FAI staff and team management".

Requests for a breakdown of the 1,700 tickets were ignored leading to a degree of online disagreement between independent travelers and those in supporters clubs who had got tickets.  Was this a deliberate attempt to divide the support?

Given the interest in the game it was no surprise that thousands of Irish fans bought up tickets in the Scotland ends of the ground.  The comments from John Delaney where he tried to push the blame onto the Scottish FA were extremely unhelpful.  It is entirely up to them as to how they allocate their tickets as long as they provide a minimum of 5% of capacity to the away team which is exactly what they did.

Delaney's consistent references to potential trouble as a result of Irish fans buying tickets in the home end were completely unnecessary and were in fact a slur on our own support and the Tartan Army with both groups having received commendations in the past for their good natured behaviour while following their team.  As expected the game passed off peacefully with only a few minor isolated incidents reported.

However, at no stage did Mr. Delaney take any responsibility for the ticketing debacle and indeed tried shifting the blame back to his own office by stating that an unnamed staff member had "dropped the ball" on it.  Shamefully, the visiting FAI delegation boycotted the usual pre match reception held by the hosting FA in a childish fit of pique.

It was against this background that a number of posters on decided that they would hold a peaceful protest at the USA game the following Tuesday to highlight the ongoing ticketing issue.  I should point out that the Scotland scenario was not an isolated incident with similar happening on a smaller scale for games away to Andorra, Estonia and Switzerland in recent years.  The protest was to take place on the 12 minute mark (due to the YBIG supporters group being known as the 12th man) when banners supporting the team were to be taken down and banners protesting to be waved.

To be honest, myself and the usual crew were on our normal spot in the Singing Section and expected any protect to fizzle out relatively quickly as getting anything to catch on around the stadium has been difficult in recent years.  And that's what I think would have happened had the response from the Gardai and stewards not been as disproportionate as I've seen in a long time.

As soon as the first banners were unfurled a number of Gardai and stewards steamed straight in grabbing and confiscating banners and dragging those waving them out of the crowd.  This was all under the supervision of Joe McGlue, the FAI security officer who was seen in section 114 at the time.  I personally saw 2 lads kicked out for trying to argue their case in a non violent manner.

Some of the lads had a copy of the stadium regulations with them which clearly stated that their banners were not considered offensive under the regulations to no avail.  In fact, in one instant a steward simply tore up the regulations and threw the paper back at the fan.

Do we really need to ask under who's instruction this happened? What transpired was indicative of the dictatorial manner in which the FAI is run and in typical FAI fashion was a huge own goal which led to the coverage of the protest being multiplied tenfold.

However, just as that incident seemed about to blow over, things got even stranger.

In recent times, John Delaney has taken on another role as a favourite of the gossip column set with the Sunday Independent's resident social butterfly, Barry Egan, taking a special interest in Delaney's new relationship.  A detailed spread in last Sunday's edition spoke in glowing terms about Dublin's new golden couple who, having wowed the punters with an impromptu sing song in the Bath pub around the corner from Lansdowne Road, had decamped for a break in "Marbs" (Marbella apparently), a place they were "lighting up with their passionate intensity".

The only problem was that when a video showing said sing song had been posted on the sports website showing Delaney singing the Wolfe Tones song Joe McDonnell about the hunger strikes, they had swiftly been contacted by the FAI advising them to take the article featuring the clip down or face legal action as it 'wasn't John Delaney in the video'. Not having the wherewithal to defend a potential legal case, reluctantly agreed to do so.

However, as we all know, once something is published online it is exceptionally difficult to get it offline.  Given that this incident happened on the same night that English fans were criticised by their own FA for singing anti IRA songs at their game with Scotland, a story about the CEO of the FAI singing a republican song was generating interest in the UK and both the Guardian and the Telegraph were preparing to run the story over the water when they were contacted by London based law firm Debello Law in which a representative of the firm stated that: “My client’s position is simply that it is not him singing in the video. If you take the decision to publish legal proceedings will follow as it will undoubtedly cause various issues for my client.”  Both papers took the threat seriously and held off publishing while they tried to get verification that it was indeed Delaney in the video.

In the meantime, Emmet Malone, perhaps emboldened by Barry Egan's piece in the Sindo which referenced the sing song, pushed for publication and The Irish Times ran the story on their front page on Wednesday morning.  While this was going on on the Tuesday night a further statement was released by Mr. Delaney's partner, Emma English,  referencing some distasteful posts made regarding her which had been posted on YBIG and stating that this was tantamount to cyber bullying.

Although the posts were removed as soon as moderators on the site were made aware of them and an apology on behalf of the site along with an offer of a donation to a charity of her choice immediately issued, both John Delaney and Emma English refused to accept the apology.

It was strange watching the swing of the moral high ground for want of a better expression over the few days. Obviously as fans, we had it following the heavy handed response to the protest at the US game last week.  This changed a bit Tuesday night with the utterly unacceptable posts on YBIG regarding Emma Engish, I appreciate it was only a few unacceptable comments but they were visible on a public site and resulted in damage to the YBIG reputation as our name was dragged through the mud in a lot of the media as Delaney undertook his whistle stop tour of the nations airwaves and used it to deflect away from questions regarding his own judgement.

However, Delaney then scored a spectacular og by instructing his legal team to deny it was him in the videot. It's embarrassing behaviour and indicative of the dictatorial attitude of the man. Despite him still trying to spin the cyber bullying angle every chance he got, it is the instruction to his legal team that is being questioned by journalists across the board now.

Although the comments made regarding his relationship were completely out of line and should be condemned, it should also be noted that it was some comments on a message board that needed to be searched for, it wasn't her Facebook or Twitter account that people were posting on.  As already stated the comments were removed and those responsible banned from the site.  In an ironic twist, Ms English has now deleted her own Twitter account after re-tweeting numerous tweets that others had made attacking Emmet Malone for running the story.  Surely, that is as tantamount to cyber bullying as the unacceptable comments made regarding her?

As for the song, I've no issue with rebel songs and anyone who knows me can vouch for many I've sung on trips during the years.  However, what I do have a problem with is the consistent oafish behaviour of a man who is pulling in a salary of nearly €400k while running the FAI as a personal fiefdom and overseing debacle after debacle whether that's with the LOI, schoolboy football, issue of tickets etc.

A man in his position should not be filmed getting carried shoulder high off a train in Slovakia while obviously drunk as a lord, carried shoeless and shoulder high while drunk again in Poland or singing what is clearly a contentious song for someone who has to deal in their job with associations from the North and England, let alone the Scots.  If he wants so badly to be one of the lads then fine, jack it in and let someone take over who can carry themselves with the decorum that the CEO of a major sporting organisation earning his salary should do.

If he is as private a person as he claims, then he should not be splashing his new relationship all over the media, making a documentary that Alan Partridge would probably reject ( or having gushing articles by Barry Egan all over the gossip pages in the Sindo.

His public statements on the various issues have been as hamfisted and embarrassing as I'd expect.  He claims to have been un-contactable on Tuesday as he was taking all of what must have been a two and a half hour flight back from "Marbs" and stated "I now understand that while I was travelling and un-contactable there was some confusion through a third party around the background of a video which appeared and where it happened which led to misunderstanding."

This obviously begs the question of on whose instruction was the same legal threat made the previous Saturday to where the clip originally appeared?  And why he would not have been made aware of the situation with over the weekend?  Surely his mobile phone wouldn't have been off all weekend.

There are also further questions to be asked regarding the legal threats made to, The Guardian and The Telegraph.  The statement from Debello Law stated "My client’s position is simply that it is not him singing in the video. If you take the decision to publish legal proceedings will follow as it will undoubtedly cause various issues for my client.” which clearly indicates that the client in question is John Delaney.  Who is paying for what would obviously be expensive legal advice?  Is it John Delaney himself or is it being funded by the FAI and by extension the fans who pay for tickets etc.

Also, Delaney has spent most of the week arguing that an Irishman singing a song in an Irish pub is nothing to be ashamed of which runs counter to the instruction given to Drbello Law where they state "it will undoubtedly cause various issues".  If, as he argues, there is nothing to answer for regarding the song then why the cack handed attempt to suppress the story?  The fact that he has stated that this was him singing at a "private" event despite it happening in a public house (the clue is in the name) is truly staggering and again shows that his understanding of the difference between what is considered public and private to be skewed in the extreme.

I can't see him being sacked over this though, people need to understand that for right or wrong, John Delaney IS the FAI these days. He's surrounded himself with cronies and acolytes, all of whom essentially earn their corn through his say so.

That said, with rumours of further stories set to hit the news stands with Sunday's papers, who knows where this might end.  I don't think we've heard the last of it yet and last Sundays's gossip columns must seem a long time ago now.