John Delaney ruled the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) with an iron fist during his tenure as chief executive. He was seen by many as a dubious character with an inclination towards exuberant spending practices. Journalists Mark Tighe and Paul Rowan delve deeper though, revealing how much influence Delaney had within the organisation and the devious methods he used to maintain it.
The prologue of Champagne Football, written by Tighe and Rowan, gives an introduction into the questionable Delaney by recounting his 50th birthday. Amongst the famous figures attending said birthday were Eamon Dunphy, Johnny Giles, and the Irish comedian Brendan O’Carroll. Whilst O’Carroll provided a comedic sketch free of charge, it seems that was the only thing with no price attached at the James Bond themed party. Included in the props to energise the birthday event were a giant ice sculpture of Bond’s pistol, a cake moulded in the form of the Aviva stadium, and a giant marquee filled with staff adorned with masks resembling Bond villains. The total cost was €80,000, €30,000 of which was picked up by the FAI, an association designed to run football affairs in Ireland, and which has received public money in the past.
“Champagne Football proves the reality was far worse.”
This would set the tone for the majority of the duo’s investigative book, a well-researched and scintillating read. Tighe and Rowan were catalysts for the demise of Delaney with their astonishing exposés revealing the FAI’s financial irregularities and Delaney’s central involvement in them. However, the book allows a forum for truly articulating the extent of Delaney’s corruption. Delaney had already been viewed as a suspect figure near the latter part of his tenure as fans were suspicious of his excessive use of the FAI’s purse strings and his €360,000 annual salary was a bone of contention. Champagne Football proves the reality was far worse.
An enduring quality of Rowan and Tighe’s work is its scrupulous detail. This comes to the fore in the unceremonious resignation of Joe Delaney, John’s father, from the FAI after a ticketing scandal. Tighe and Rowan do not blatantly state it, but the claim can be made that this had a psychological effect on Delaney and his desire to exact revenge on behalf of his father from a position of authority. A persistent question though is how did Delaney achieve this supreme power of unaccountability within such a high-profile organisation? Delaney after all is a qualified accountant and businessmen with no formal qualification to take on the role of chief executive of the FAI. This was, as the journalists outline, a typical tradition of an administration built-up of voluntary board members. The difference though was Delaney’s innate urge for financial and career success and the manipulative toolkit used to accomplish it. His actions after the debacle of Saipan in 2002 in utilising the media to engineer the resignation of the board member Brendan Menton and launch his progression within the FAI is testament to this fact.
Tighe and Rowan go further in depicting the true nature of Delaney’s character. They paint an ominous picture of Delaney’s actions which foreshadowed his chief executive regime. Included in them is Delaney’s mismanagement of finance in a waste disposal company, leaving his partner in arrears to the revenue service, his free-spending culture in the FAI as honorary Treasurer, and furthering the secrecy of cover-up within the FAI. The authors’ meticulous and precise reporting creates an image of a scheming, cunning man, more than happy to act without restraint as long as it does not affect his personal welfare.
“Delaney’s intent emerged, dictatorial like, as he ensured members were acquiescent and submissive to his demands for fear of retribution.”
Initially, Delaney performed well in the role of chief executive, contradictory to the events that unfolded. As John Byrne said, who was within the FAI structure at the time, for “18 months he was brilliant”. The beauty of Tighe and Rowan’s clinical approach is that it does not revert to tabloid hysteria and hyperbole to enforce a point, rather they let their reader make up their own minds. As such, we can only speculate that Delaney required a bedding in period before he asserted his dominance in the organisation. But before long, Delaney’s intent emerged, dictatorial like, as he ensured members were acquiescent and submissive to his demands for fear of retribution; as the journalists uncovered the board “agreed not to disagree”.
Champagne Football illustrates the consequences of allowing such freedom and control to one figure who does not have to suffer repercussions. Already with a tendency towards excess as detailed in the book, Delaney flourished in an environment free of punishment. According to Tighe and Rowan, Delaney acted as a “governor” in the FAI, striding out on the pitch to receive the applause of fans after a victorious performance and threatening to “bring down the FAI” in the case of an internal complaint when caught in controversial circumstances on a night out in Poland during the European Championships in 2012. The duo portrays a figure so embedded within a world of wealth and overflow, combined within an inflated ego, who treated the FAI as his own personal kingdom.
The shocking aspect which both authors highlight is the extent to which Delaney sustained this lavish lifestyle. He had complete disregard for the finances of the FAI, much of which he was responsible for, as evident in the failure of his 10-year ticket strategy. The strategy which failed to induce many purchases when the most expensive option cost €32,000 and launched during the economic recession of 2008. Delaney seemed to believe he could wish profitability into existence, stating all is well when the figures undeniably state they are not. His method of diverting blame to others in the case of fiascos and adept use of the media prolonged his tyrannical reign, to such an extent that the build-up of corruption brought about his inevitable collapse.
It was Mark Tighe and Paul Rowan of the Sunday Times which initiated Delaney’s downfall, exposing the €100,000 personal loan of Delaney to the FAI to keep them solvent. Champagne Football, written in an engaging and entrancing manner, makes corporate governance look like the inside machinations of the Mafia. Responsible for ridding the FAI of the infection of John Delaney, they lay out the evidence of the case with chronological exactitude letting the reader take upon the role of judge, jury and executioner. Nevertheless, Delaney has left the FAI with a €462,000 severance package and the FAI with incredible net liabilities of €55m. However, hopefully the efforts of Paul Rowan and Mark Tighe will allow the FAI to emerge post-Delaney era to start helping Irish football and clubs to develop, as they should have done from the start.