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Brendan Clarke – when footie can’t pay the bills

Ex-Super-Blue Brendan Clarke speaks out on Limerick FC’s financial crisis, his own playing struggles and his untimely departure from the club.

Former Limerick FC goalkeeper Brendan Clarke has opened up on his turbulent spell with the Super-Blues in the midst of the club’s financial crisis.

He was one of four players who departed the club on July 1 after the side announced that they did not have the finances to pay their players. This resulted in losses both on and off the field for the Super-Blues.

Unable to provide for his family as he would like, Clarke was left with no choice but to leave Markets Field in search of pastures new.

Reflecting on his departure Clarke said, “you have to look at things, I had a mortgage to pay, I had bills to pay and, if I don’t think I’m going to be paid in any job, I’m not going to do it.

“People look at footballers and think they should be doing it for the love of the game but it’s not like that, that’s our job.”

“We sign shit short term contracts which start in pre-season and end in October and we rely on that to pay our mortgages, to pay for bills and your kids, but yet people think because you’re a footballer, it’s okay.”

After his departure, Clarke joined fellow Airtricity League side St Patrick’s Athletic. With the Limerick club in the depths of a financial crisis, Clarke felt it was in their best interest for him to leave and get off the pay roll.

“I was sad and I didn’t plan on leaving but I did it to help the club out. When all this developed, Limerick manager Tommy (Barrett) came to me and said, ‘go find yourself a new club, if you can’. It was just one of those things, I had to leave for my own career but I didn’t want to, I wanted to help the club out by leaving as well, so it was a sad situation. Sad the way things went.”

Brendan Clarke of Limerick FC. SSEAirtricity League Premier Division, Galway United FC V Limerick FC. 07/07/2017. Eamonn Deacy Park, Galway, Co Galway. Credit: Conor Wyse

Speaking about his troublesome final weeks at Limerick FC, former goalkeeper Brendan Clarke admitted that there was an atmosphere of unrest in the dressing room, with players unaware of where their footballing futures lay.

“The few weeks before I left there was a lot of uncertainty around players. Every morning I was in we were asking each other, ‘have you been on to anyone’? or ‘has anyone been on to you’? or ‘who are you meeting’? or ‘where are you going’?

“It’s hard, some of the lads might have had a couple of clubs onto them whereas some of the other lads’ phones might not have rang at all. It does create disharmony in the squad.

“No one came out and said ‘shut the f*ck up talking about it because I’ve had no one ringing me’, but I know if it was me who was sat in the corner, I’d be thinking I don’t know if I’m going to be paid and my phone hasn’t rung so what am I going to do?”

According to the 2018 Global Sports Salaries Survey, the Airtricity League ranks 48th out of 68 top-flight football divisions analysed in terms of average basic annual first team pay. The average rate in the Irish Premier Division is €14,926, whereas Scotland’s Premiership, for example, sees an average of €199,147.

Clarke praised the attitude of those who remained until the end of the season at Limerick and commended the younger players for standing up and fighting to keep the club in the Premier Division.

“In terms of the lads coming through, you have the likes of Will Fitzgerald, Carl O’Sullivan and these guys. They have had to become men overnight in terms of a career. They’ve literally had to step up to the plate,” he said.

“I feel sorry for all the lads, because of the shit they were landed in during the year. It’s Tommy’s (Barrett) first job and no manager should go through that at all really in their whole career, never mind their first job or in the first couple of months of his job,” he added.

In spite of the club’s financial predicament, Clarke commended them for supplying the players with top class facilities at University of Limerick, for as long as they lasted at least.

“When I first came down in 2017, we were based out in UL. We were full-time, the facilities were fantastic, second to none in the country in my view. We were on the AstroTurf out there, one of the top in the country and we used the gym,” he said.

“It’s the same training ground that Munster Rugby use and they leave no stone unturned when it comes to preparation and their standards. We were in a very lucky position to be able to use those facilities.

“The first part of the season we were there and we ended up moving out to Hogan Park then.

“It was grand, it was a pitch to train on, it wasn’t like UL, there was no gym there or nowhere to eat and stuff. I don’t know what the reason was, I’d assume it was financial so if that was the club cutting the cloth to fit the table that they had at the time, well then listen fair play, so be it.

“As players we just try and crack on, get on with things and try and make the most of what we have.”

Clarke has had an illustrious career in the League of Ireland but this isn’t his first experience of having to leave a club due to financial affairs. The 33-year-old found himself in a similar situation whilst playing for Sporting Fingal in 2011.

He was midway through a two-year contract at the club when he was told to leave because of financial constraints. According to Clarke, “the rug was pulled from underneath,” him and he was left with no choice but to go in search of a new club.

“Nothing surprises you in the League Of Ireland. These things happen a lot more than they should, I’ve been around long enough at other clubs to know.”

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