We’ve been here before. It seems, increasingly, we are here much too often. With chairman John O’Sullivan standing down, and with it, his deep pockets, Waterford United football club is in dire financial straits and facing an uncertain future once more. No one can deny the great job, and the great effort, made by O’Sullivan over his 10-year chairmanship of the club. It has been a difficult decade for Waterford United, and there have been many, many occasions on which it seemed the club was going to fold.
Here’s a short history lesson though, one that gives me hope, and shows that if nothing else, Waterford United has been a resistant club in almost 90 years of existence. The club began life as a local side called in Waterford Celtic in the middle of the 1920s, but as it became evident the club was outgrowing first the local competition and then the competition in Munster, it was granted, after a wait for two years or so, a place in the then Free State League in 1930. But, in a country reeling from international recession following the Wall Street Crash, and unprecedented unemployment crisis in not just Waterford but the whole of Ireland (plus ca change!), the club as it was founded in 1930 was folded and re-entered the league again in 1932. This version of the club would survive for little over a decade when it was re-constituted in 1945 as the Waterford Football Club Ltd (1945).
In this guise the club would stabilise and in the middle and late 1960s enjoy its most successful period, when they would win 6 league titles from 1965-1973, entering on several occasions the European Championship (forerunner to today’s Champions League). But a club cannot survive on legend alone. Real success would not come again until the end of the 1970s when we won the FAI Cup for the first time since the 1930s.
The early 1980s, another period of social and economic stability, saw the club shift shape once more becoming the Waterford United Football Club Ltd. in 1983. This legal reformation of the limited company is the version of the club which limps on today, going from financial crisis to financial crisis.
But, as I said, we’ve been here before. In the 1930s, when the club was first founded, the local business magnates were tapped for cash to help the club on its way, and throughout the club’s history a combination of local businessmen, members of the footballing community and the club’s fans have helped to keep it going.
We have been in the First Division of the League of Ireland for a long time, and as such with no signs of success, many Waterford people have completely lost interest in the club. This is no surprise, even if it is difficult to bear. Football without fans is nothing, and without fans there is no club.
Waterford are far from the only League of Ireland club to face the difficulties they are facing now in recent years. The clubs that have most successfully navigated the shifting financial fortunes of the past ten years are those who have opted for the Supporter’s Trust, supporter-owned model of running their club. All of the evidence points to this.
The current campaign to save Waterford United from extinction is in my view a kind of bailout. While the club is not too big to fail, it would be a tragic loss to the civic identity of a proud city. I would ask anyone who can to donate however much they can to the campaign.
But I also suggest that we need, as fans of the club, to insist that we cannot dig into our pockets every few years to save the club from collapse if it isn’t going to move towards a fan ownership model. If the money I was putting in to rescue the club now could be seen as a first step towards that – a kind of buy-in, then I think very many more people would dig into their pockets, at home and abroad. As I see it, this is the only logical step forward to ensure the club’s continued existence. And that means the setting up of a supporter’s trust. Once we hit the huge target to keep the club liquid that needs to be next part of this conversation. Otherwise, it will have been wasted money.
- Things You Can Do:
First and foremost, the best way to support the club is to go watch the team play.
- Donate to the Save Waterford United campaign.
- Join the conversation on Facebook.
- Educate yourself about the supporter’s trust movement through Supporter’s Direct and the Irish Supporter’s Network.
To donate to the Save Waterford United campaign follow this link. This is the Waterford United facebook page where you can keep up to date on developments of the Save Waterford United campaign and join the conversation about the club’s future.