Drogheda give players deadline on offer

 

DROGHEDA UNITED officials and players were last night embroiled in a stand-off over the issue of unpaid wages and bonuses which could spell the end of the club's efforts to avoid bankruptcy and maintain their League of Ireland status.

The problem revolves around efforts by the club's interim committee to settle a debt of around €350,000 owed to squad members for about a quarter of that amount.

Failure to reach an agreement would effectively doom the club both in terms of the examinership and the FAI's licensing scheme.

But the players, who are represented by the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland (PFAI), rejected the offer on Friday and expected an improvement in what was on the table in the wake of a committee meeting held on Monday night.

Instead, the club officials merely reiterated their offer of around €91,000, insisting the sum was as much as they could afford if the club is still to have enough to negotiate meaningfully with their other creditors prior to returning to the High Court this month. These include the Revenue Commissioners, who are owed around €500,000.

With about €250,000 to work with and a bill of around €120,000 to pay for the examinership process itself, the situation looks bleak in any case, but those overseeing the rescue attempt believe there is a slim chance it can be pulled off if the players accept the offer. With a proposal due to be put together by Friday, they told the players yesterday they could not improve on last week's offer and set a deadline of 5pm today for acceptance of those terms.

The offer was again rejected yesterday, although talks aimed at finding a way forward are scheduled for 11am this morning.

PFAI general secretary Stephen McGuinness expressed surprise and disappointment on hearing of the deadline, insisting the club needs to come up with more if a deal is to be achieved. He suggested the attempt to impose time limits on the process was not helpful.

"The players are willing to accept a great deal less than they're entitled to," he said. "They've even said that they'll take what's on the table now as long as there are further payments over the next six to 12 months, and the seven players still under contract have said they're prepared to allow the club cancel their contracts. But that doesn't seem to be enough. Really, you have to ask just how much do they (the club officials) want."

After talks involving the FAI, McGuinness appears to have been under the impression that either the funds required to make an improved offer would somehow be found or the club would agree to carry some of the debt owed to players into the new season, and he expressed confidence that if willingness to move on either front was shown by the club then the union could get to the stage where they could recommend the proposals to members.

He also called on the club's directors to make a financial gesture to get the negotiations beyond the impasse.

"They're the people who got the club into the situation that it's in now, and yet, despite the assurances they gave that they would meet their obligations for the year, most of them seem to have walked away and the FAI, just as they did with Arkaga in Cork, have done nothing to stop them. Well, they should take responsibility for the current situation and come up with the money required."

Club spokesman Terry Collins insisted, however, that having repeatedly weighed up the options on Monday, the committee members decided they had no alternative but to put the ball back in the players' court.

"This isn't a ploy or a bargaining position," he said. "We simply don't have the money. The directors stopped funding the club after putting in millions of euro in recent years because they don't have the money anymore, and we're left in the position of only having what supporters and people in the town have gone out and raised over the last few weeks, that's the reality of the situation.

"Nobody's trying to force this deal on the players. We all understand their frustration (Collins, a full-time employee of the club has not been paid either) and accept completely that they're entitled to their wages, but that doesn't change the fact that the money's not there. All we can do is hope that they reconsider and accept what's on offer."