'Professional football doesn't pay enough to fund a mortgage or get married'

Irish soccer's players union chief outlines financial struggles of League of Ireland stars

BY Shane Hegarty 12:25 Monday 16 March 2015, 12:25 16 Mar 2015

©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

League of Ireland footballers don't earn enough money to get married or fund a mortgage, according to its players union chief.

The financial collapse of the league has been well-documented but the extent to which players are up against it financially still makes for stark reading.

The average LOI Premier League footballer currently earns about €400 before tax per week - or approximately €16,000 per year over a 40-week season, after which all players become unemployed.

Those figures are peanuts compared to their counterparts across the water, and about one-tenth of the salaries earned in the game here during the boom years.

"The one thing that you look at now is the average age is 24 now," Stephen McGuinness, chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland, told Newstalk's business editor, Vincent Wall, on Breakfast this morning.

"That tells a tale. When you get to your latter 20s or early 30s and you're looking to get a mortgage or get married, unfortunately professional football doesn't pay enough of a salary to do that.

"We find a lot of our players are playing part-time or drifting out of the game into going and getting full-time jobs and to have themselves educated.

"Our role as a union is to assist the players in that. We were just yesterday discussing the option of having a jobs fair at the end of the season.

"The dynamics of our union has changed dramatically. At one stage we were in negotiating about players contracts and ensuring that the contracts are stable.

"But now our role has changed to where we're now looking for employment for our players, who are all unemployed at the end of the season - three months without work. All our players are out of contract, with nobody being paid 52 weeks of the year."

Listen to PFAI chief Stephen McGuinness on Breakfast here:

Many League of Ireland clubs were able to pay their players substantially more a decade ago. This was because of the property speculation value they thought they had in their stadia, and also because of the advent of venture capital companies who aspired to make a killing by getting clubs into European competitions.

"The inflation came from a number of the top clubs having a ground that was based in prime land in Dublin," explained McGuinness.

"Look at Bohemians, Shelbourne, and Drogheda for that matter. They found themselves in a position were they had prime land that was worth millions with the potential to move somewhere else in Dublin and then mortgage the club on that.

"Bohemians found themselves with huge problems and are probably to this day feeling the scars of that.

"The club is being run really, really well at the moment. There's huge work being put in; Chris Brien and Stephen Lambert and the guys I deal with down there regularly.

"That was a huge heating effect to the market. We had other venture capitalist companies like Arkaga who went into Cork City, and who had the idealistic approach that 'we're going to get to the Champions League group stages here and if we invest a couple of million into this, we can get ourselves to where we can make a huge amount of money'."

Educating and upskilling players for work in the off-season and beyond their retirement from the game is one of the priorities for the PFAI, and also one of the greatest challenges they face, according to McGuinness.

"That's one of the difficulties that we have had because a lot of our players go away on apprenticeships to England at 16 years of age and education is the last thing on their minds," he explained.

"They want to be professional footballers. "They're gonna believe that they are going to be the next big star. And that's the belief of us all, including myself when I played. The difficulty that we're having is with them being out of it [education] for six or seven years.

"The model at UCD is the ideal model, where they will continue to be educated and playing.

He added: "We have a huge amount of guys that have done their coaching licences - but the reality is that there's not enough jobs out there."

On a more optimistic note, McGuinness reckons the inherent discipline of a pro player could give them a leg-up when it comes to switching profession.

"I've had a number of players contact us about 'what skills do they have to be a professional footballer'. They underestimate what it takes to be a professional footballer. How disciplined they have to be. They don't see those skills transferring into the workplace, but they do. Our role is to identify potential companies who can employ our players while they continue to play."

There was a time during the boom years when all of the money paid through the turnstiles went into players' salaries but McGuinness outlined that Salary Cost Protocols now mean that just 55 per cent of attendance monies go to wages.

He also called for better facilities at club grounds "to entice fans into games", and while progress has been made, insisted the LOI "needs better marketing".

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