By Macdara Ferris This year marks the 10th season that Shamrock Rovers have called Tallaght Stadium their home. The Hoops will have a fancy new extension to the venue during 2018 with the addition a 2,195 seater south stand - worth around €2m. Thi
By Macdara Ferris
This year marks the 10th season that Shamrock Rovers have called Tallaght Stadium their home.
The Hoops will have a fancy new extension to the venue during 2018 with the addition a 2,195 seater south stand - worth around €2m. This will mean, as an upgraded UEFA Category 4 stadium, it could host Champions League play-off and group games.
It is all quite different for Shamrock Rovers from a decade ago when they were playing out yet another season at Tolka Park – thankfully for Rovers supporters it would be the final year at the northside venue before moving across the River Liffey.
The stadium saga is such a sorry drawn out tale but at least one with a happy ending when for so long it looked like the Hoops would never get to Tallaght or worse still the club would go out of business.
30 years ago, the club were beginning their first season away from Milltown after the highly controversial sale of Glenmalure Park by the Kilcoyne family who then owned Rovers. They would play 364 league games between leaving Milltown and the first game in Tallaght Stadium in 2009.
They would initially move to Tolka Park for a year and then Dalymount Park for two seasons. When they went to the RDS in 1990 for six seasons, it represented a stable time for the club and a period when they weren’t paying rent to their club rivals in those wilderness years. It would be the only venue where they would win the league title in the time since leaving Milltown and playing in Tallaght.
It was in 1996 that the club first announced the plan to move the club to a 10,000 capacity stadium in Tallaght and they moved ‘temporarily’ back to Tolka Park. With huge potential to recruit new fans in one of the city’s largest suburbs, the Hoops hoped to be playing in their new Tallaght home by the end of 1997. It certainly didn’t work out that way!
Right from the beginning the project was dogged by planning and financial problems. Planning permission was finally granted for the stadium by An Bord Pleanála in January 1998, albeit with a capacity reduced to 6,000 from the original plans. It took until the turn of the new millennium for the first sod to be turned, with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on hand to do the honours.
Financial difficulties continue to plague the project, even with €2.4m development governments grants issued for the stadium, with construction ceasing in late 2001 with the main stand only partially completed.
It meant that the Hoops would continue to hopscotch from ground to ground moving from Tolka Park to Morton Stadium in Santry to Richmond Park and back to Tolka Park over the following seasons, with games in Dalymount Park, Belfield Park and Turners Cross thrown in for good measure. The tally on finally reaching Tallaght would read Tolka 145 matches, RDS 94, Dalymount 53, Richmond 40, Santry 30 with a solitary game in both Belfield and Turner's Cross.
Yes, that is Turners Cross in Cork used as a venue for a Rovers home game more than 250km from Dublin. Crowd disturbances after a game outside of Richmond Park in September 2003 meant Rovers could no longer use the Inchicore venue. The Hoops were hosted in Belfield Park for the following ‘home’ game against UCD before agreeing to play their next ‘home’ game in Cork. In the Rovers match programme, published the week after that match, a letter to the editor from Rovers supporter Jim Conroy summed up the frustrations of Hoops fans.
“Saturday 27 September 2003 was the most humilating day in the history of Shamrock Rovers FC. We travelled to Cork and…the one thing that sustained us was that we would see our beloved green and white hooped jerseys, as the Hoops would be playing at ‘home’.
“The jersey is probably the only thing about our club in which we can still be proud. Sadly, even this last bit of dignity was taken away from us as we lined out in our away strip. The club agreed to this with Cork for the sake of a few Euros. How low can you get?”
That low point maybe marked a turning point for Rovers. The relationship between the board and supporters was already frayed earlier that year when a heads of agreement was negotiated by the club board and the GAA to complete the stadium together – this was a plan that was quickly shelved when it was clear that it had little or no support from the Shamrock Rovers fanbase.
Over the years various property developers had look to get involved in the project, all with an eye for making money off developments within or beside the stadium. Bernard McNamara and Jeremiah O’Reilly had been given ownership of four acres adjacent to the stadium which had been identified for parking, but they failed to secure planning permission on site site for a hotel.
Amongst a number of other potential investors over the years were Ben Dunne and even Mrs. Brown’s Boys own Brendan O’Carroll who was mooted as looking to invest his money in the club.
When South Dublin County Council refused to extend the planning permission for the Stadium as Rovers were deemed not to have the means to complete the venue, it precipitated a further finianical meltdown in the club.
By then the 400 Club had been set up by Rovers supporters to provide a method of raising money for completing the stadium and to provide financial support for the club. At this point the 400 Club were no longer willing to part-fund the operation of the club, and eventually in April 2005 an examiner was appointed to prevent the liquidation of the club as Rovers looked to restructure their €2.5m debt.
It was Justice Frank Clarke – who is now the Chief Justice of Ireland - who presided over the case in July 2005 with the Examiner and the 400 Club running Rovers during the examinership period.
Both the Council and the Department of Sport made it clear about what funding was available to complete the stadium in public ownership and that in any final scenario Rovers would be a tenant in the ground. Philip Furlong, Secretary General of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, speaking to the public accounts committee noted that South Dublin County Council “will not permit any commercial development at or adjacent to that site.”
When external investors realised there was little likelihood they would make any profit on the site their interest in the project quickly ended. The 400 Club went all in and offered every cent it had with a €250,000 offer which was matched by Australian based Rovers fan Ray Wilson. That figure was enough to save the club with both parties getting a 50% stake but Rovers still weren’t in Tallaght yet. One final hurdle was required to be overcome by the Hoops.
Thomas Davis GAA Club sought leave for a judicial review in the High Court of the council’s decision to finish the stadium to the original design. They were looking to get the stadium modified so it could accomodated the larger playing surface required for gaelic games.
Minister for Sport John O’Donoghue was adamant that additional funding would not be provided to modify the stadium for gaelic games. It meant another trip to the High Court for Rovers who were party to the case taken out by the GAA club against the council.
As Rovers were set for the high court, they were successfully battling to get back to the Premier Division having been relegated for the first time in the club’s history at the end of the 2005 season.
The GAA ultimately lost that court battle which took over a year to work its way through the courts including appeal period – all the while both the Irish and global economy were rapidly contracting. This further legal delay to the completion of the stadium could have been fatal to the Tallaght project and Shamrock Rovers as a club.
September 2007 marked the run on Northern Rock bank in the UK as the recession began to take affect. 12 months later Lehman Brothers had collapsed as the global financial crisis came to a crunch, while in Ireland things were unravelling at Anglo Irish Bank.
During this periodJustice Roderick Murphy ruled in favour of South Dublin County Council and Shamrock Rovers and in early 2008 the High Court refused Thomas Davis’ leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. The final obstacle had been removed to completing the stadium and just in time.
With funding made available, South Dublin County Council appointed contractors who in May 2008 took possession of the site and began completing the main stand. By March 2009 the club were ready to play their first game as anchor tenants in the new stadium. The honour of scoring the first goal for the Hoopsin the venue fell to Gary Twigg in the 2-1 win over Sligo Rovers. The Sligo club had also provided the opposition for Rovers’ last game in Milltown.
The Hoops were home again.
Macdara Ferris is the author, with Karl Reilly, of Tallaght Time: Shamrock Rovers 2009 to 2012
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