Alan Cawley and Daniel Lambert on the biggest problem facing the League of Ireland
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"The biggest issue is facilities."
On the latest episode of House of Football, Bohemians Chief Operating Officer Daniel Lambert and League of Ireland legend Alan Cawley discussed the progress of domestic football in recent years.
The League of Ireland has seen a remarkable post-pandemic resurgence, with crowds and general interest in the Irish domestic game at an all-time high.
However, there is still plenty of room for growth and improvement, with one area in particular highlighted by Bohemians COO Lambert and Cawley.
Daniel Lambert and Alan Cawley on the League of Ireland's 'biggest issue.'
Simply put by the Bohs COO, "the biggest issue is facilities".
Every week grounds across the Premier Division are full, with many fans unable to get tickets due to the limited capacities inflicted upon clubs by their outdated and ill-suited stadia.
With only three-in-a-row winners Shamrock Rovers boasting a ground built this century, the investment into the league's facilities has not kept up with its soaring popularity.
The likes of Sligo, Shelbourne and Bohs all have plans of renovating their home grounds, but the processes have become long and drawn out, much to the frustration of match-goers.
Remarking on the painstaking nature of trying to upgrade facilities within the league, Lambert said.
"Facilities in Ireland like Dalymount are not a short-term thing, they aren't even a medium-term thing, unfortunately. They tend to be something at minimum that are sort of seven to 15 years as a period. Dalymount is going to end up, when it's done, 15, so I think what needs to change".
“It should be done in a way that doesn’t lose the soul of the game…”
Bohemians COO Daniel Lambert on the biggest issue facing a resurgent League of Ireland ?️
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Adding that the interest is patently there to justify speeding up the process of improving facilities, Lambert stated;
"You've seen it now with ourselves (Bohs) sold out, Pat's sold out all the time, Rovers get great crowds all the time... but you can see with somewhere like Dundalk or Drogheda where they just aren't in good condition at all. Sligo have good plans, but they'll take time too".
As can often be the case in modern football though, the upgrading of facilities can remove so much of the history, tradition and culture which makes clubs so unique and treasured by their fans.
With lifeless bowls seemingly being copied and pasted across the UK as their top clubs go about modernising facilities, this concern must be kept at the forefront of any redevelopment plans in the LOI.
"They should be done in a way where they don't lose the soul of the game, so they aren't hyper-sanitised, have a bit of personality about them and can hopefully stay in the locations that they're in like with Tolka Park", stated Lambert.
It is not just increased attendances and improved match day experiences that would be brought about by a rejuvenation of LOI grounds, but also a host of other economic benefits which could prove hugely lucrative in a league where clubs struggle to even hand out multi-year contracts.
"That facility improvement enables income growth, better commercial partners, enables a lot of transformative stuff later on".
There have been recent reports that the FAI themselves have been lobbying the Irish Government for access to windfalls from corporation tax as a way to fund stadia redevelopment.
And whilst this progress is welcomed by the Bohs COO, Lambert wants to see action on the ground before lavishing too much praise upon the organisation;
"I think that next stage is the facilities bit and the FAI documents were great. But even if there is buy in politically, which I hope there will be, the actual results aren't seen".
Bohs themselves are experiencing the pace at which facility upgrades occur in Ireland, with the planned redevelopment of Dalymount Park into an 8,000-capacity UEFA Category 3 stadium moving at a pedestrian rate.
You can catch the rest of the episode below, with everything from running a football club to the pairs' thoughts on Manchester City discussed.
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