How to save soccer for Dublin

It looks like we’re about to witness the demise of Tolka Park and along with it the end of soccer venues in Dublin city centre.

If this process keeps up then central Dublin will be one big residential area with nothing for anyone to do. It’s a tragedy for Irish soccer and it’s folly for the city of Dublin.

The whole point of repopulating the city centre area is so that people will be able to live their lives on foot and on public transport. But residential property is so valuable that every other form of building is just waiting for the apartment builders to clap eyes on them. This is even happening to pubs.

The City Council must stop this rot and it has the tool needed to do it – zoning. We must protect the range of venues and facilities in the city centre area.

Tolka Park is owned by the City Council. But it is leased to Shelbourne FC on a 99 year lease which won’t be up until around 2060. But property developers have become adept at putting together deals which can overcome issues of ownership and law. So, basically, Tolka Park is up for sale.

At the same time Bohemians have agreed to move out of Dalymount Park in a deal worth some €50m. So that’s the end of football in the city as well as the loss of two historic venues.

But all is not lost. Bohs won’t be moving until the new stadium in Castleknock is built which could take three to five years while Shels have made no commitments despite their current financial travails. So there is still time for the City Council to come up with Plan B.

Here’s my Plan B. Allow both Dalymount and Tolka Park to be sold. Build an new, perhaps roofed stadium on the site of Mountjoy Jail which is due to be redeveloped.

Use Bohs and Shels as anchor tenants for the new stadium and design it so that it can be used for concerts, exhibitions, etc. It is within walking distance of the city centre, is served by a large number of bus routes and will be just across the road from the new metro station beside the Mater Hospital. 

Bohs and Shels would both make contributions to the new stadium but would not have a majority stakeholding to tempt future owners with a property deal. 

Is this realistic? The site at Mountjoy is estimated to be up to €2 billion in value; Dalymount is valued at €50m and Tolka at around €40m. And as I said earlier the developers are willing to consider any scheme as long as they make a few bob out of it. So all it would take is a bit of leadership.

The two clubs were actually in negotiation about sharing Dalymount before the Bohs deal so both are open to any new ideas.

If not, then the much lamented demise of Milltown will have been part of a process and the laments will have proven hollow.

All that is required is leadership. The City Council own Tolka Park and the Department of Justice owns Mountjoy. Also a certain well-known and influential political leader has his HQ within a stone’s throw of both of them.

And there’s an election coming up.