Waterford resorts to the Web in effort to rebuild
The halcyon days of Waterford soccer may be on the way back, with the assistance of an ambitious business development plan and the World Wide Web.
Supporters of Waterford United Football Club around the world have responded to information put out on the Web about the club's new million-pound share issue.
As the team, affectionately known as The Blues, begin their campaign in the premier division of the National League after a five-year absence, the club has registered as a public limited company and started a major drive to expand its resources.
"We want to put the club on a professional level to be able to compete with the best," says its chairman, Michael Finnegan.
"In order to achieve that we must secure the best players for the team, put a professional structure in place and generate the financial resources needed to fund both the professional management and the development of the team."
The Blues have been part of Waterford life for nearly 70 years. In the 1960s and 1970s they won five league titles in seven years, generating enormous enthusiasm and support in the city and county.
"I was going to matches when I was a kid, and I still remember those days. They were fantastic days," says Mr Finnegan. It is not surprising, therefore, that the club's share issue has attracted wide interest, with inquiries from Australia, Hong Kong, Boston and the UK. Local subscribers range from an 80-year-old supporter to a five-month-old baby whose shares are held in trust.
The share capital secured will be used in an initial three-year development programme. It is hoped to invest £200,000 in the acquisition of new players, and up to £270,000 in club and player facilities at the Regional Sports Centre in Waterford where the team's home matches are played.
Waterford United have also opened offices in the city and appointed Mr Bob Breen, formerly chief executive of Slough Town FC, as general manager.
The shares, being sold at £1 each with a minimum purchase of 100, will allow the Blues' many loyal supporters to participate directly in the ownership of the club, knowing that the funds raised will be invested fully in development.
A key objective is to provide football career opportunities for talented young Irish players, many of whom have gone to English clubs at the age of 15 or 16, only to be rejected a couple of years later.
"We have brought Irish players of 18 and 19 years back home," says Mr Finnegan.
The share capital is divided into 200,000 preference and 800,000 ordinary shares. Ordinary shareholders can participate in annual general meetings of the company and have one vote per share owned. Preference shares are aimed at corporate investors and carry no voting rights.
Upgrading at the Regional Sports Centre has already begun with the installation of additional seating which increases capacity by 720.
The club's first game in the premier division drew a large crowd last Friday, and there was jubilation when The Blues defeated UCD 1-0.
Bob Breen says the club plans to work closely with the junior clubs to help develop local talent "and to keep the talent in Waterford".
There are also plans to develop the potential of the Web to widen the club's support base and keep up interest. It is hoped in the not too distant future to broadcast voice commentaries on the matches live on the Internet.
The management is confident the business approach will help consolidate the position of The Blues among the elite of Irish football.
"Football today is a very professional business. To be at the top here, as in any other country, you must have the best players and the best facilities," says Michael Finnegan.
WUFC plc has also set its sights on building a team capable of competing at European level. There are still many supporters who recall when Waterford United played Manchester United in 1968. Although the result was 3-1 against Waterford, the match is still vivid in local memory.
Details of the share offer and development plans are available from the club's office, ((051) 853222.