Tried and trusted practices still in evidence down at the Farm
Sports clubs in the recession:Long a model football club, Home Farm are coping with the recession in their own unique style
The lights burn a little brighter now on a weekday night up at Whitehall in north Dublin as the youngsters of Home Farm are put through their paces. It’s just after 8pm on a chilly autumn evening but the place is its usual hive of activity and somehow, between all of the energy and noise that bounces around “the cages” where the teenagers train at one end of the ground, the night time seems to stop at the club’s famous front gate.
The floodlights certainly play their part too, of course. They’re new; part of a €600,000 recession-defying investment that has also paid for a 300-seat stand and a completely revamped clubhouse. The seats are in and the dressing rooms done but the paint still looks very fresh on the walls of what will be the new bar and gym and the fit-out is still in progress as various club committee members proudly provide the guided tour.
Denis O’Sullivan has just taken over as chairman but, like all of the others, he’s been around a while. As a kid, he could hop over a wall from his neighbouring home to cut short the trip to training.
There were no lights then . . . unless you count the ones from the airport road which seemed to do well enough when practice took place on a pitch belonging to the adjacent VEC. Needless to say, people expect a good bit more these days.
The club’s historical success, O’Sullivan acknowledges, was in part down to the fact that it attracted players from far and wide because it offered much better facilities, and coaching, than many of its rivals.
Now, he observes, things have changed. “Schoolboy football is very different. With State support an awful lot of clubs have developed their own facilities and so kids are more likely to play with their local clubs.”
With all of their recent investment, however, Home Farm hopes to stay, if not ahead of the pack, then at least well up there with its leading members.
None of this comes cheap. The prospect of a €400,000 grant being lost played a key part in nudging the committee into pressing ahead with the development work but even the balance requires quite a bit of paying off.
Fund-raising has gone reasonably well, though clearly not as well as it might have a few years ago, and the club has borrowed a portion of its own share of the costs to get the work completed. The difficulty is that the normal day-to-day costs have to be met too and there is only so many times you can hit the same people in the current climate.
Just running the club, O’Sullivan reckons, costs about €250,000 per year; that’s €5,000 per week give or take, every week of the year.
It’s quite a sum to come up with from a membership made up of roughly 350 kids organised into 22 teams and supported by about 100 volunteer adults. Adult members, many of whom donate a lot of their own time, pay €100, the kids €250 which, it is estimated, translates into €2.50 per session, be that a game or a night’s training.
“We would contend that it’s excellent value for the kids,” says O’Sullivan.
There would, he adds, be more teams and kids if only they had the facilities required to cater for them but they are planning to expand into the girls game with those who play in the younger boys’ sides having to move on when they reach their teens.
In relation to funding the capital spend, plaques on seats are being sold at €100 each, sponsors are being sought and the club is open to offers for the naming rights on both the new stand and the ground itself.
Still, it’s clearly not a place to hang about if you don’t want to be asked to lend a hand. John Lyons had friends involved when he used to swing by for the odd pint 30 years ago when, he says with a laugh, he made the mistake of offering to give someone a bit of a dig out with something. Over the three decades since he seems to have become completely immersed in the place – he’s the club treasurer now – and like O’Sullivan, club secretary Eamon Mahon, vice chairman Eugene McDarby or committee member Michael Dowling, he spends a good deal of his own time working out how to keep things running smoothly at the club.