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Merriongate: The FAI's Missing Ticket Money

Shortly after the end of the highly successful reign of Jack Charlton as Irish football manager Irish soccer was rocked by a scandal that became known as 'Merriongate' and involved missing ticket money.

In 1996 Veronica Guerin, the newspaper journalist that was so tragically murdered by members of the Irish crime world, revealed that in 1994 £200,000 FAI ticket revenue had "disappeared". In a Sunday Independent article on the 18th 1996 Guerin wrote that a ticket agent in London had made off with FAI ticket money and that an FAI board member had made up for the shortfall.

Unorthodox Ticket Dealing by FAI

It slowly emerged that, over the course of Ireland's participation in the 1990 and 1994 World Cup finals, the FAI had bought non-Irish match tickets and then swapped them for tickets for Republic of Ireland tickets through a London-based ticket agent. The Sunday Independent revealed that this practise had generated a loss of £154,000 in 1990 and £210,000 in 1994. Initially the FAI denied any knowledge of such dealings and tried to ride out the media storm.

The scandal took an unexpected twist when it emerged that the London agent was Greek and travelled under a couple of different names - Theo Severiades and Tio Marcos. The FAI admitted that they had dealings without realising that he was in fact a ticket tout. He had made off with £200,000 of FAI match ticket money.

The Hunt for 'George the Greek'

In the media this ticket tout became known as 'George the Greek' but despite many attempts to track him down no trace of his existence ever emerged. To this day significant doubts remain about whether this person was ever a real part of the Merriongate ticket scandal.

It emerged that the FAI Honorary Treasurer Joe Delaney (father of the FAI Chief Executive John Delaney and former chairman of Waterford United) had been engaged in the ticket dealing with 'George the Greek' without the knowledge of the FAI Executive Committee. He had denied it at first but later issued a statement saying that he had personally stumped up £110,000 to cover the ticket shortfall.

In the end Joe Delaney had to come up with a total of £210,000 to compensate the FAI for his dealings with 'George the Greek'. He also apologised for not telling the FAI about his curious and highly unorthodox ticketing dealings.

Joe Delaney and Other Strange Ticket Dealings

In his book, Who Stole Our Game: The Fall and Fall of Irish Soccer [Page 228], Daire Whelan quotes an unnamed source who described a highly unusual event also involving the then Honorary Treasure of the FAI, Joe Delaney. It was the occasion of Ireland's participation in the 1990 World Cup Finals in Italy and the scene was a hotel in Sardinia.

Whelan's source of the story was with some businessmen from Chile when, "... an Irish fella asked me, do you know Joe Delaney? ... next thing Joe comes in ... he had one of those wheelie trolleys and he sat down in the foyer and it was packed to the brim with tickets. He was there for three hours that night and then came back the following morning until the case was empty and he didn't take one cheque, everything was cash." Highly unorthodox, especially for the national football body, to say the least.

The FAI's Night of the Long Knives

The night of the 8th March 1996 is known as the FAI's night of the long knives as it led to very significant political bloodletting in an organisation that has had more than its' fair share of controversy. It was the occasion of the FAI Council meeting that would deal with the Merriongate ticket scandal. In advance of the Council meeting the Honorary Secretary Des Casey, Vice President Pat Quigley, Chairman of the League Michael Hyland all resigned from the FAI Board.

After this Joe Delaney also resigned but still wanted to address the Council meeting. He issued a press statement before the meeting making the case that his unusual ticket transactions were designed to secure as many tickets as possible for Irish fans but his good intentions went horribly wrong when 'George the Greek' absconded. His statement also included a statement of regret that he had misled the FAI officers and the public.

The 51 man Council meeting convened in the Westbury Hotel on that Friday night to thrash out the extraordinary events that had been revealed leading up to the meeting. The awaiting media spent ten hours waiting outside to report on the outcome of the meeting. The officers that had resigned addressed the meeting in turn to explain what they did or didn't know.

The Council members accepted what Des Casey, Pat Quigley and Michael Hyland had to say and they were duly reinstated. It appears that FAI President Louis Kilcoyne was defeated because of residual antagonism towards him due to the sale of Shamrock Rovers football ground, Glenmalure Park in Milltown, in 1987.

The Council overwhelmingly voted no confidence in Joe Delaney and thus ended his involvement with the FAI. Most people hoped that the bloodletting of the night of the long knives in the wake of Merriongate would clear the decks and herald a relatively calm period within the FAI. It wasn't to be however and following a turbulent nine year period of infighting and political wrangling Joe Delaney's son, John, was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the FAI in March 2005.

Sources:
Who Stole Our Game - The Fall and Fall of Irish Soccer; Daire Whelan (2006) ; Gill & Macmillan Ltd, Dublin

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