They might be celebrating 30 years in the League of Ireland but with poor form clouding the fortunes of Bray Wanderers for the past two seasons, the managerial merry-go-round at the seaside club is spinning out of control – as Peter Doyle explains.
The last time Bray Wanderers appointed a new manager, the team responded with a 1-0 win at home.
That was two months ago, when Trevor Croly marked his debut as Bray boss with three points against St Patrick’s Athletic.
Four weeks earlier, the Premier Division’s side’s former under-19 coach Maciej Tarnogrodzki was the new man in the hot seat as the Seagulls swept aside a struggling Limerick team 4-0 to secure another three points.
And after Mick Cooke became Bray’s fourth manager this season, the pattern continued – thanks to Saturday’s 1-0 home win in the league over Derry City.
Who knows, if the chairman Denis O’Connor continues to change managers as often as some teenage boys change their socks, Bray could avoid a repeat of last season’s relegation battle when they finished one point above doomed UCD.
But with the team sitting fourth from bottom after 19 games, exasperated fans believe the next person to leave the Carlisle Grounds should be O’Connor himself.
Amid claims that some players (and a former manager) were not paid on time, and with a power struggle over ownership of the Premier Division club heading for the high court, supporters staged a protest outside the ground before the match against Derry.
With placards demanding the O’Connor’s resignation, scores of Carlisle Ground regulars voiced their anger at the off-field wrangles days after the players had complained that payments to the team ‘in recent weeks and months’ had been delayed. Previous boss Alan Mathews quit in April in a row over wages.
In a statement released via the Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland (PFAI), they said the delays had caused ‘caused hardship and distress’ and harmed squad morale.
The off-field troubles at Bray began even before a ball was kicked this season. In January, three months after finishing the 2014 season in 10th place, the club were forced to deny newspaper reports of a Garda probe into claims that €450k from a €1.4m State grant earmarked for stadium improvements had been diverted elsewhere in the club.
Chairman O’Connor later admitted, however, that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport officials visited the Carlisle Grounds last October but that the club ‘has heard nothing further since’.
Two months later, following a dismal run of five matches without a goal, let alone a win, Alan Mathews and his backroom staff walked out over claims they had not been paid.
In a blistering attack, Mathews blamed the turmoil behind the scenes for his decision to quit 15 months after he was appointed as successor to Bray stalwart Pat Devlin.
A joint statement from Mathews and his staff said: ‘Unfortunately, circumstances beyond our control have now prevailed and the position of the entire management team (who remain unpaid) has become untenable.’
Days later, events at the Carlisle Grounds took yet another bizarre twist when Bray conceded that there had been a ‘breakdown in communication’ prior to Mathews’ departure.
Praising the efforts of the former manager and his team, the club claimed the row had been settled and ‘that no action of any legal nature’ was required.
Three months on and under-fire O’Connor, who took over in the boardroom at the turn of the year from Philip Hannigan, is fighting another rear-guard action.
With rival shareholder John Deering challenging O’Connor’s and fellow director Kieran Kelly’s plan to buy the club with a bid of his own, the club this week was granted a High Court injunction against Deering and two others – Paul Lennon and former goalkeeper Darren Quigley – which prevents the three men from entering Bray’s home ground and engaging in other club-related activities.
The move follows reports of Deering, a former director, arriving at the Carlisle Grounds before last Saturday’s kick-off and claiming he was taking charge of the club’s affairs.
After the final whistle, when asked if events away from the park were affecting the players, new boss Cooke replied: ‘Does that performance look like it?’
Two days later it was claimed in court that Deering’s actions had put Saturday’s match in jeopardy.
But with the prospect of a third relegation battle in as many seasons beckoning, there is a lot more than three points at stake as the club owners prepare for the second round of its legal battle against Deering next week.