- Lifestyle & Sports
- 05 Mar 18
A move towards community activism has coincided with an upsurge in Bohemian FC ticket sales. The club’s Daniel Lambert talks direct provision, prison visits and John Delaney with Stuart Clark.
If the SSE Airtricity League is a busted flush no one’s bothered telling the 3,600 impossibly noisy Bohemian and Shamrock Rovers fans who’ve packed into Dalymount Park for the season opening Dublin derby.
Bohs could easily have sold three times as many tickets, but two of the famous stadium’s stands can’t be used for health and safety reasons.
That’ll soon be fixed with Dayler being demolished at the end of the 2019 season and a new 8,000-capacity all-seater new ground, which will reportedly be bankrolled by central government to the tune of €30 million, taking its place. They’ll co-habit for two years in Tolka Park with Shelbourne, and then move back to Phibsboro with Shels as their co-anchor tenants, thusly ensuring the future of both clubs.
Dayler’s surviving Jodi Stand, which is still entered via-the turnstiles that were installed in 1925, bears testimony to the club’s rich 127-year history. During the guided tour I’m given before kick-off, I spot the League of Ireland Select XI vs. Santos programme that then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, asked Pelé to sign in 1972; the photograph of Ireland’s first President, Douglas Hyde, attending the Bohs game in 1938 with Éamon de Valera that got him thrown out of the GAA; the posters for Thin Lizzy and Bob Marley’s respective Dalymount gigs in 1977 and 1980; and the congratulations letter AC Milan sent the club when they last won the league in 2009.
A couple of hours later the Clarkian eardrums are in danger of bursting as Bohs fans celebrate the last of the three goals they score in thirteen second-half minutes – Rovers had lead for an hour after Graham Burke’s Zlatan-esque bicycle-kick had cannoned back off the post and onto the foot of a grateful Ronan Finn - to ensure that there’s no dancing on the streets of Shamrock tonight.
With a goodly proportion of the home supporters staying on to toast the victory in the Bohemians craft beer bar – the ringing of the cash-registers is almost as loud as the roar of the crowd - it couldn’t be a better all-round night for a club that a few years ago was staring bankruptcy in the face.
“During the economic boom, the board – with the support of the membership – decided that the strategy would be to sell Dalymount Park to developers for around €60 million and move to what initially was going to be Castleknock and then became Harristown near Dublin Airport”, explains Daniel Lambert, a local café owner, DJ and skahead who puts in around 20 hours a week as Bohs’ volunteer strategic planner. “On the strength of this, €4 million was drawn down, which was used to fund a fairly successful period on the pitch. When the crash came, the deal collapsed, the value of the ground plummeted to €3 million, and the club was left with a debt that it had no way of paying back. That prompted an almost total change in the board of directors, with the group of us who came in deciding that the only way to survive in the short-term was to totally pare back expenditure. The playing budget was slashed by 90% - we’d previously had guys on around €80,000 a year, a level which I suspect that Cork and Dundalk are nearly back to now. They’re fully professional whereas our lads are on a lot less, and either have second jobs or are in third-level education, which benefits them when their playing careers are over.”
With Bohs’ expenditure finally under control, Lambert and his fellow board members embarked on a diplomatic mission worthy of Kofi Annan.
“We were very honest with the bank and made it clear that we had no way of paying back the loan,” he resumes. “There were two strategies – one was selling the ground to cover as much of our debts as possible, and moving in with another club or leading a nomadic existance, which is what Shamrock Rovers did after Milltown was turned into a housing estate. Bohs fans rarely give Rovers credit, but what they did during that period to sustain the club was remarkable. The other was to look at saving Dalymount, built around the history of it being where Ireland international games were played between 1904 and 1990. We got help from the likes of Labour TD Joe Costello; the then Minister for Sport, Paschal Donohoe, who lives just round the corner; and Dublin City Council who voted unanimously – which never normally happens – to buy the ground.”
At the same time as they were wooing politicians and placating bank managers, Bohs set about redefining what the club and its supporters stand for.
“The model of a fan-owned club is based on active citizenship,” Daniel asserts. “In addition to paying your €365 a year membership, you strive to make the club and the north inner city Dublin community it serves a better place. It’s the polar opposite of clubs that have been taken over by billionaires whose success has come at the price of its core working-class support being shut out due to the astronomical ticket prices. We looked at the club’s set of identities and values, the cornerstone of which is total equality and inclusivity among all members, and came out very strongly for the Marriage Equality referendum. A few memberships were handed back as a result, but to have not done so when we have a Gay Bohs group would have been total hypocrisy.
“My personal opinion is that the club is inherently a little bit to the left. Supporters have chipped in to pay for coaches that bring families living under direct provision in Finglas and Clondalkin to games. We’ve done stuff around the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean; send coaches and players into Mountjoy prison, which is just down the road, and do projects with kids who are at risk of moving into major criminality. Cork City and ourselves have been acknowledged recently by the EU who’ve given us grants to expand our community activities under the More Than A Club banner.”
Whilst acknowledging that “every club has the right to do things its own way”, Lambert feels that a lot of them have yet to hit upon a business model that can sustain both themselves and the league in general.
“The standard of football in the Airtricty will never be as good as it is in the Premier League, so let us focus on what we have that they don’t, which is closeness to the players; a tight community of fans; over 20 youth teams comprising of I don’t know how many different nationalities; €220 Adult Season Tickets and Under-13 ones that are just €25; punk, mod and ska gigs in the back bar after games… A lot of those aspects were highlighted in the #TerracesNotTV video we did last month – ‘Choose Live. Choose Local. Choose Bohs’ – and has since gone viral.”
Lambert doesn’t share the almost universal loathing among Airtricity League fans for FAI Chief Executive John Delaney.
“It might be wrong that whoever in the FAI earns ‘X’ amount, but the reality is that if you gave every club here a million quid, almost all of them would spend it on players’ wages rather than developing infrastructure and reaching out to their communities. Last year our crowds went up by 21% to an average of around 2,200, which is back to the level of our championship-winning 2009 season. Although we finished fifth, our home form was terrible so I’d argue that people were coming for the experience as much as the actual football. We’re selling substantial amounts of merchandise and attracting football tourists from abroad who tend to spend big when they’re at Dalymount. The plan, once we have our new stadium, is to grow our crowds to 5,000 and have a club that obviously strives for success on the pitch, but isn’t going to go out of business if we’re not qualifying every seson for Europe.”