The growing number of community-owned football clubs in the Republic of Ireland is set to grow further next season following news that Wexford FC’s new supporters trust is to take ownership of the club.
Currently plying their trade in the First Division (second tier), Wexford FC joined the League of Ireland as Wexford Youths in 2007 and are famous in Ireland and beyond for their distinctive pink and black club colours.
Speaking at the launch of the Wexford supporters trust last week (September 13th), Ray Noonan, chairman of Wexford FC, explained the reasons behind the change, saying: “We’re at an important time for the club. We have a number of significant strengths at the moment. We have a great facility in Ferrycarrig Park, we have wonderful natural talent in the area – boys, girls, men, women of all ages – we have some wonderful committed volunteers all around the club who did a huge amount of work and we have five teams now competing in the League of Ireland. We also have a strong academy – 11s, 12s, 13s, 14s – and we are starting a junior academy for the seven to ten year olds, so we have a huge amount going for us.
“We also have great plans. We have massively supporters, some excellent sponsors – who we are hugely grateful to – but we don’t have enough of them. Our ethos is very much of a community club so (the supporter trust) very much fits with that ethos and it fits where we want to go with the club.
“How do you increase our support base? You bring people in, you make them owners of the club and you give them a say in how it’s run. We firmly believe the club has a great future and we firmly believe this is the way to go to make it sustainable.”
The event was also attended by John Delaney, CEO of the Football Association of Ireland and UEFA executive committee member, who gave his backing to the development.
“When supporters come on board, it’s gives them a deeper connection to the club,” he said. “It’s gives them ownership and involvement. If you have 200 people paying in every month, it’s not about the money – it’s the connection, it’s the sense of being involved and the broader synergy of having 200 members working together. That’s the way forward.”
“This is the right time for Wexford FC to do what they are doing. The key word is community. In the past, Dublin City in particular – they had the franchise to Dublin but no connection to the community. You want every kid in the south east saying they want to play for Wexford FC. If there were four things I would look for in a club now – it’s a stadium for the grounds, facilities for an academy, a sense of community and the franchises (underage team) that are being given out, and Wexford have all four.”
SD Europe’s Niamh O’Mahony also spoke on the night, outlining some of the history of the supporter ownership movement in Ireland and Europe, while recalling the timeline of Cork City FC’s rise to the top of the Premier Division as a supporter-owned club. Niamh is a former board member of FORAS, the supporters trust that owns Cork City 100%.
“It was fantastic to see the backing for the supporters trust in the room on the night. Becoming a co-operative football club will allow Wexford FC build even closer ties with its local communities and ensure there is always elite football in the south-eastern corner of Ireland. Running a football club is never an easy task but with input from across the community, Wexford FC can build something really special – a club the entire region can be very proud of.”
For more information about the Wexford supporter trust, visit the Wexford FC website.
Half (six of 12) of the League of Ireland’s Premier Division clubs are currently co-operatives or member-run clubs, which is a significant number given there is no regulation or requirement for supporter involvement at present. In addition, a number of Irish football co-operatives (Finn Harps, FORAS, Galway Soccer Co-op & The 1895 Trust) came together to formally establish the Irish Supporters Network in 2016 – forging closer ties between Ireland’s member-run clubs and supporters trusts in the process.