Investor Ray Wilson looking to rejuvenate Shamrock Rovers on and off the pitch
Sydney-based businessman says first team won’t be sacrificed as developments begin
Shamrock Rovers were beaten 5-0 by Cork City in the FA Cup quarter-finals, but investment into the club is forthcoming. Photograph: Inpho
Ray Wilson is quick to admit that the timing of his latest visit home has been a little unfortunate. Five days after Shamrock Rovers’ FAI Cup humiliation at the hands of Cork City, the Sydney based businessman who is investing a significant part of his personal wealth in a plan he, and everyone else at the club, hopes will transform its long term fortunes, still seems a little bit shocked by the scale of the defeat.
The Dublin born accountant, though, is a lifer whose love for the club or faith in its future could not be shaken for a moment by a single defeat. Of slightly more concern was the fact that his friend and fellow investor, Australian banker Seumas Dawes, was seeing them play for the very first time.
“I made sure that before we left the stadium, we signed the investment agreement in the boardroom,” Wilson says with a laugh. “I wasn’t letting him leave the stadium without getting his signature.
“But look,” he adds, more seriously, “we both believe in this. Seumas is fully briefed on all aspects of the strategy. I think we’re both committed to making it work. I’m not going to stop until it is successful.”
“It” is a €1.5 million investment, in the form of an interest free loan, that will be used to dramatically upgrade the football facilities at Cement Roadstone’s Sports and Social Club at Kingswood, a few minutes’ drive from the club’s Tallaght stadium and so provide the basis for a “more sustainable” future.
With work on a full size artificial pitch and improved grass pitches set to get under way in the coming weeks and a third stand expected to be built in Tallaght next year, the club’s infrastructure is, partly due to the support of Roadstone and South Dublin County Council, on course to be the best in the country, at least until Dundalk get around to spending some of their new found wealth. As Friday’s game only served to highlight, though, the first team is nowhere close to where the club’s fans feel entitled to expect and Wilson, whose many meetings this week included one at what will be the Rovers academy to brief them, insists that that too is high on the agenda for the reformed board.
“I know the fans are impatient,” he says. “They demand and expect success for the first team. We all understand that. Nobody hurts more than myself. Obviously we’re in a disappointing position sitting here today but I think the real message is what we want to do, what we are doing.
“We want to dominate. Now that might sound fanciful when we’ve just been humiliated 5-0 but what we are trying to build with a proper football department - and it’s not an academy and a first team - it’s an integrated cohesive platform - is something that can allow us to do what the Rosenborgs and PSV and Benficas have done in other countries. In fairness to the FAI, having the under-19, under-17 and soon the under-15 competition, has given us the opportunity to revolutionise Irish football. And that’s what we’re doing.
“We have a fantastic set up bit what we are building will take a little bit of time and in the meantime we know that we have to be competitive with the first team and we will be addressing that for 2017, absolutely. We are not ignoring that. The board is working its arse off to make available what we need to make available for next season. We are not willing to forego the first team for five years. The money that Seumas and I are putting in, that’s additional money for the development of facilities.”
This latest 10 day trip home - he left in 1985 to work as an accountant but is now one of the key figures in a business, the Plenary Group, that provides finance for major public infrastructure projects there and in Canada with the total values of projects involved approaching €40 billion - has been packed with meetings, three, four, five a day, he says, aimed at progressing the development at Roadstone and other aspects of the club’s work.
Amongst them was one with John Delaney who, he insists, clearly suggested that he recognised the importance of projects like this both to the league and the wider game here.
Wilson declines to comment on the dissatisfaction that other clubs have expressed with the FAI but says: “I met John last week and I do get a sense that the tide is turning there. I get a sense that they (the association) are focusing much more on trying to support the League of Ireland. I think the penny has dropped. John said it last week; that the days of the young player, 14 or 15 year-olds, heading over to top English clubs and successfully carving out a career for themselves, are over.
Players like the Colemans, McCleans, Hoolahans, they are the product of this league and so I think the FAI realises that if we want to be competitive at Euros and World cups, to qualify for these tournaments and do well at them, we have to do something different. I’m hopeful that as finances seem to be improving at the FAI that they’ll see the sense and invest a lot of that domestically. And the league is the place to invest it. Dundalk and Cork have proven that.”
Dundalk, he hopes will do well in the Europa League and spend the money it earns them well even if, he admits that the scale of their windfall worries him. Cork are his more immediate concern, though, as he’ll be taking in Rovers’ league game there before heading back home.
It will, he says, be a test of character for Stephen Bradley’s young team after last weekend’s cup defeat but regardless of what happens this Friday, Rovers’ future, he absolutely insists, looks brighter than it has for quite some time.