With the confirmation on Saturday evening that Treaty United have been granted a licence to compete in the Airtricity League First Division, sustainability is the buzzword in soccer circles.
Sustainability is defined as “meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” and after so many false dawns for senior soccer in the city, those with a keen interest in the game will be working hard to achieve it.
League of Ireland sustainability has proven elusive for those who have attempted to provide it under different ownerships and teams in Limerick yet I believe the appetite for senior soccer is still strong and there are reasons to be hopeful that this regime can meet the needs of all involved locally in senior soccer.
Finance plays a part but is waiting for an influx of millions being gambled on a minimal return, a realistic approach to base the hopes of current and future generations of players and supporters on? Unless the latest Lotto winner from Limerick is a fan and feels like making those hopes a reality, a shrewder more holistic approach will be required.
When one looks at costing a senior soccer set up it goes far beyond just putting a first team on the pitch, that is where the hard work really begins.
Not having its own training and playing facilities will incur rental costs. But it doesn’t stop there, factor in travel to and from games, a playing and management budget, kit and underage academy costs and one begins to understand why past chairman dating back to the Famous Fried Chicken era and before have failed to crack the code on “sustainability”.
I’m not one for business cliches but “Joined up thinking” is another one that jumps to mind. Striving to get every strand of the game in this region from grassroots to senior level – including over ten leagues, 100 plus clubs with as many volunteers on committees – pulling in the same direction with senior soccer at the pinnacle and you can appreciate the size of the challenge.
While acceptable and understandable that not all junior clubs and supporters in the region will have an interest in promoting senior soccer, I’m sure the percentage of clubs that do is high enough to support this tier of the game through mutually beneficial football partnerships.
You may ask, why do we need senior soccer at all? It is needed to provide a pathway for young players who dream about being a future star. For youngsters, this is a dream that will never die and we owe it to them to provide a pathway locally.
Clubs sharing facilities in return for coaching sessions for their players by the best academy coaches in the region is one way of generating mutually beneficial partnerships between junior and senior soccer. A proper youth development strategy is a must for the highest levels of the game in terms of nurturing young talent but quality coaching is paramount to this.
Youth Developers should do as the description suggests, to develop and equip players aged 18 and under with the tools to play in a future senior team. A wide geographical spread of these partnerships could provide the national league representative with a fan base that can grow over time and help the team in terms of financial and playing support.
Fan interaction with regular club and school visits from favourite players, Q and A sessions and photo opportunities with a team full of local and relatable players that inspire a younger generation is the ultimate aim. It creates a community link and gives youngsters something to strive for.
Providing tickets for underage players that must be accompanied by a paying adult again should be explored and could possibly save on the rent of training facilities for a national league academy while at the same time increase attendances and gate receipts.
Sponsorship of players, staff and kit are the other avenues that I have no doubt the club will actively pursue. Seeking engagement from the local business community to be active stakeholders in the success of the club is crucial. This “buy in” from local businesses will take trust and may be achievable once a visible pathway for local talent is in place over a period of successive seasons.
Resisting the temptation to recruit players from outside the mid-west and further afield, has sometimes been too much for those in positions of power. This approach has not only hit the senior club in the pocket but also on the terraces by blocking pathways for local players and coaches, killing local interest and the possibility of any long-term partnerships.
Every local club, fan, player and entity want to see local players on the side when possible. With the right staff in place, you would hope to see results on the field in time. Once it’s not a repeat of past years where finishing bottom or second bottom of the First Division table becomes the norm, people will back the project.
A reasonably competitive team with results and performances improving over time and an identity that clubs, young players and supporters from this region feel part of is key. Resisting the temptation to gambling on short term success which nearly always leads to more long-term pain can be avoided with the appointment of a football person positioned between the business end of the club and the management teams.
Creating this link through a person, who possesses the business acumen, league experience, correct qualifications and who can be trusted with the responsibility of driving recruitment both on and off the pitch might be difficult, but it could also be the key to realising that magic word “Sustainability”
Treaty United appear to have appointed a good blend of football and business people to positions in the club and I wish them nothing but the best going forward. I for one can’t want to see the team back in League of Ireland action.