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SDE network: League and Cup success caps unforgettable year for Cork City

2017 will be remembered in the city of Cork for many years to come, a historical league and FAI cup double celebration capping off a record-breaking year in the League of Ireland for its supporter-owned football club.

What makes the tale of Cork City FC’s season even more special is the fact the club was on its knees and facing extinction just seven short years ago, and it was FORAS (Friends of the Rebel Army Society) that stepped forward to ensure the region’s strong football tradition would continue at the highest level of domestic competition in the Republic of Ireland.

The supporters trust was first mooted at a time when the club had a respected and influential local owner, a businessman by the name of Brian Lennox. The fans would sing: ‘Who needs Abramovich, Brian sells lots of chips’ in tribute to the city’s most beloved chip shop and its owner.

However, as is very often the case, placing the weight of running a football club on one person’s shoulders proved too heavy a financial burden to carry and the club was sold to an investment fund in 2007. The same week that FORAS launched its first membership drive in 2008, Cork City went into examinership – unable to pay its bills and needing court protection.

The following weeks were intense and worrying for everyone involved but FORAS quickly established itself as an organised and credible voice for supporters, vowing to work with any new owner that might take control and run the club on a more stable footing and even beginning to prepare to take full ownership.

CCFC emerged successfully from examinership in October 2008 but though the trust attempted to support and work with the new owner, financial problems surfaced once again in the summer of 2009 and led to the supporters trust applying for a licence to participate in 2010 League of Ireland as a fallback to the ongoing issues.

On the eve of the new season, Cork City FORAS Co-op (Cork City FC) was awarded a licence to take part in the League of Ireland First Division. The holding company of Cork City Football Club, in contrast, failed to gain a licence on account of outstanding debt and folded within days. All of which left just over a week to prepare for the first fixture of the new campaign.

On March 5, a squad of just 13 players prepared to take on Derry City in front of a bumper crowd at the Brandywell. A 1-1 draw on the night ensured that the FORAS era got off to a promising beginning and months later the trust purchased the assets of the liquidated holding company to ensure the Cork City Football Club name would once more be in safe hands.

Back playing as Cork City Football Club in 2011, the club secured promotion to the Premier Division with a dramatic title-winning victory over long-time rivals Shelbourne. Two seasons of consolidation followed, before the appointment of the club’s record goalscorer, John Caulfield, as first team manager in advance of the 2014 season.

Together the trust, staff and players improved year by year with longed-for silverware arriving courtesy of a late winner from Sean Maguire in the 2016 FAI Cup final.

Even better was to follow in 2017. A 12-match winning run at the start of the season – which set a new club record – saw City surge ahead at the top of the table and eventually win the Premier Division by seven points and with two games to spare. A second consecutive Cup final win over Dundalk followed as City sealed a first-ever double win for the men’s side, while the club’s women’s side clinched their first women’s FAI Cup title the same day.

“This year’s success has been built upon more than seven years of hard work by board members, trustees, volunteers, supporters and the wider community as well as players and managers. It truly is a collective effort,” FORAS chairman Pat Lyons explained.

“Cork has always had a long tradition of success with its football clubs over the decades but while they have always done well on the pitch, off-the-field stability was often lacking. That, above anything else, is what FORAS has brought to this football club. The supporters trust wants to see success on the field of course, but we also know that having a strong club – and all that involves – is what allows the football to happen.”

Crowds gather to welcome CCFC home after their Cup win (Credit: Doug Minihane)

And anyone that believes Cork City and FORAS might now rest of their laurels is mistaken. Pat continued: “We have been enjoying ourselves for the last few weeks and it’s incredible to see the support the club now has around the city. However, we also have big plans for the years ahead.

“Providing and promoting the importance of education is a key priority of FORAS. One of our key club partners is now University College Cork (UCC), and we’re extremely proud of that connection and hope to see it flourish even further.

“We have just appointed a new General Manager, who we hope will bring CCFC to the next level off the field. We look forward to developing our Centre of Excellence in Glanmire, our growing community programme, and, of course, our friendships across Ireland and Europe through our involvement with the Irish Supporters Network and SD Europe. Hearing the experiences of other member-run clubs has been invaluable and we are also grateful for the messages of support and goodwill in recent weeks.”

Cork City has been part of SD Europe’s ‘Clubs and Supporters for Better Governance in Football’ project over the past two years and actively involved in the wider movement since first attending a Supporters Direct event in London back in 2010.

FORAS was also the lead Irish organisation involved in the ‘Improving Football Governance through Supporter Involvement and Community Ownership’ preparatory action (2012-13), co-ordinating the production of the Heart of the Game handbook for Irish supporters interested in taking a more central role within their club and is a founder member of the Irish Supporters Network.

Further articles from the SD Europe network will follow in the coming weeks, so please get in touch if there’s a story you’d like to share or to learn more about how SD Europe can support your organisation.

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