League of Ireland club St Patrick’s Athletic on the coronavirus front line

Club have not allowed own financial woes to stop them helping others

St Patrick's Athletic Football Club has opened a food bank at its ground to help individuals and families in the area who have been hit particularly hard by the knock-on effects of coronavirus. Video: John Cassidy

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Richmond Park in Inchicore Dublin, home of St Patrick’s Athletic, is one of the most atmospheric grounds in League of Ireland football. Supporters approach it down a slope recessed from the houses around it and past the mural which is the club’s logo “ní neart go cur le chéile” (there is no strength without unity).

At this time of year the League of Ireland would normally be a third of the way through the season, but the nets are tied up and the pitch looks brown in places from the recent spell of dry weather.

In the shop where club gear, half-time tea and coffees are sold and after-match interviews are conducted, neat bags are laid out on the floor filled with non-perishable food items such as pastas, rice, tea bags, bolognese sauces and tins of beans.

Laid off

The food has been sourced from Food Cloud, the not-for-profit organisation that supplies charities with unsold supermarket food. There have also been donations from local businesses, but demand is such “that it is not nearly enough”, says St Patrick’s Athletic community officer David Morrissey.

The food is being distributed by volunteers to families in the Inchicore area. It is an initiative by the club, the Inchicore-based addiction services charity, Frontline Make Change, and the Dublin South City Partnership through the Kilmainham-Inchicore Network.

So far 80 families in the area have asked for help. These include families where a householder has been laid off and are struggling to pay the bills, says Aoife Hannon of the network.

Many families of children with special needs depend on the local schools for support with meals. Others are elderly people who are trapped in their homes by the pandemic.

Social welfare payments are now being paid on a biweekly rather than weekly basis and some families are struggling to budget.

Mr Morrissey approached the board of St Patrick’s Athletic and its owner, real estate developer, Garrett Kelleher, about using Richmond Park as a community hub during the pandemic. They readily agreed.

“We are not trying to solve the world’s problems, but we are trying to supply people a couple of days before money might come in with the basics. If people are stretched, we can supply them with a couple of breakfasts and dinners,” he says.

He is hoping that local people will bring non-perishable goods for distribution locally to Richmond Park on Saturday between 12pm and 2pm, and on Monday and Tuesday between 2pm and 4pm.

He says demand is far greater than supply at present and, if local people and businesses can help, more people can be helped more often.

Besides, as he points out, the club is sharing in the struggles of many people locally. Last week, St Patrick’s Athletic announced that they were laying off all their playing staff and coaches.

League of Ireland football clubs have always struggled financially, but this is a crisis of a different magnitude when all of football is mired in uncertainty and no money is coming in.

Bigger problems

St Patrick’s Athletic director of football Ger O’Brien is one of the volunteers who turns up to distribute the food to local people, many of whom he knows personally.

He says the situation facing footballers is no different to those facing so many others. His own partner had to close down her hair salon last month and lay off nine staff.

He maintains St Patrick’s Athletic have aspirations to be more than a football club – they want to be a part of the regeneration of an area which has had more than its fair share of reverses over the years.

“There are bigger problems than football,” he says, “but we are looking forward to having Inchicore full of supporters again. Football clubs are special in communities like this.”

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