The year 2008 will not be looked back upon with fond memories for anyone connected to Cobh Ramblers of Ireland’s Premier Division. The club famous for producing past and present Premier League players Roy Keane and Stephen Ireland capped a magnificent 2007 by winning the Irish First Division on the last day of the season in November and gaining promotion to the Premier League. Hundreds of fans made the four hour trip north to watch the title decider and the Ramblers didn’t disappoint, taking the title with a 1-0 win.
Last season was a season of records for the club: their first piece of major silverware, a record number of games unbeaten (27), and a record number of points in the first division (77). The club also saw its old stadium revamped with new seats put in the stands.
This season, however, anything and everything has gone wrong for the seaside club. With 23 games of the season gone, Cobh sit bottom of the table with only 12 points and and abysmal -28 goal difference. They are currently six points from safety and have only scored 12 goals over the entire season. Ramblers were also dumped out of Ireland’s domestic cup, falling at the first hurdle to a team in the first division.
The joy the club’s players and fans experienced last season has turned sour with a number of controversial and comical incidents both on and off the pitch. One example of bad luck occurred during a crucial away match to fellow strugglers UCD a month ago. Ramblers took the lead from the penalty spot and looked set to take all three points, yet were robbed by the UCD goalkeeper, who headed home a 94thminute free kick to the dismay of the 20+ traveling away fans.
The problems on the pitch, however, have not come close to the problems the club is having off it. Last month the club’s directors held a board meeting whose outcome could have meant that Cobh Ramblers would drop out of the Irish Premier Division and instead play intermediate football in the Munster Senior League (Ramblers last played in that league 23 years ago before being inducted into the Irish League). The board meeting ended with chairman Barry Walsh remaining in power after a 4:1 majority vote in his favor. The meeting brought further embarrassment and confusion to the club with manager Stephen Henderson publicly stating that he would have left the club if Walsh had been removed from his post.
With the board meeting out of the way, it looked like everyone at the club could now concentrate on keeping the club in the Premier Division. Yet more off the field distractions were just around the corner. The club’s rising debts forced the chairman to take the ludicrous measure of asking the players to take out 2000 euro each in personal loans to help the club’s debt. The players laughed off the proposal, reminding everyone that most of the players are on one year contracts meaning many of the players would soon be paying back a loan for a club they used to play for. The players did agree to help the club out by taking at 30% wage cut.
Further embarrassment followed when a board member leaked documents to Ireland’s national newspaper The Independent revealing the club’s massive debts. The Chairman admitted that the club is now about 150,000 euro in debt, even after a recent friendly with Sunderland reportedly raised over 100,000 euro.
Ramblers next match was away against fellow relegation strugglers Finn Harps in Donegal, the longest away trip of the season. The club told the players that they could only afford a bus for the match, meaning the players would have to make the long journey to the other end of the island on the day of the game. In a gracious gesture the players offered to drive up from Cobh the day before the game if the club would pay for a hotel. The club agreed to this, and the extra rest seemed to help the players who came from two goals down to draw 2-2 in the last minute.
The last gasp equalizer has been a rare happy moment for the club so far this campaign. 2007 was widely considered to be the best season in the clubs 86 years of existence, but 2008 will be remembered as perhaps the worst.