An Open Letter to Bray Wanderers FC

Dear Management of Bray Wanderers,

I write to you today with genuine sadness, some bewilderment and above all deep embarrassment at your recent statements, press releases and actions.

The final straw was discovering that I had been personally blocked from the official Bray Wanderers Twitter Account. That action has directly forced me into responding publicly today.

Let me explain firstly who I am. I was taken on last year, in August 2016, as media liaisons officer for the club. Three years ago I had met with a Bray club think-tank headed up by prior chairman Philip Hannigan, and had submitted a proposal as a public relations consultant. Nothing came of that and so I was surprised to be approached last summer by the then chairman Denis O’Connor. We had many talks over the following weeks and finally I submitted a detailed brief of work and my services were retained.

It was a steep learning curve. I was unfamiliar with the world of soccer in general and of League of Ireland in particular.  However, I found myself falling head over heels in love with the club. I became a defacto Seagulls Supporter. I met fans, old and new. I worked with sponsors. I grew to know and respect the sports media. I worked with the nominated charities to promote them. I laughed and joked with the hard working and good natured stewards on match day. I found great friendship with the grounds man and general factotum, the mascot and his children, the DJ, the tea ladies, the head of security, the FAS workers, volunteers and most people attached to the club. I met with the previous chairmen to learn from their experiences. I also discovered the gentleman that is Harry Kenny – as well as his brothers who were active in both running the U19s and supporting the club. And I really, really enjoyed meeting and interviewing the players who were polite and mannerly to a fault with all my requests.

However, some four months ago the then chairman and I had a major disagreement. I stuck to my guns – it was on a point of principle, humanity and also corporate sensitivity. As a result he swore never to speak with me again, an order repeated in person the following week by his brother, the general manager.  Accordingly I worked closely with the wonderful, unsung hero Mick Duffy to continue my work which included producing weekly media briefings, weekly digital newsletters, ongoing media relations and match day programmes. It was a strange time but I persevered.

More recently in June I attended official FAI training along with the other media officers from the Premier Division. I learnt vast amounts and enjoyed meeting my fellow media officers. As the workshop emphasised – we may all be competitors on the field but we can cooperate and help each other off the field.

Then the week of the Dundalk match (June 30th) I received communications from the chairman again, after a three month period of silence. I was asked to report back from the FAI workshop and there followed a barrage of nearly 20 emails in less than 24 hours badgering me as to what I personally was going to do about the gate. These aggressive emails were copied to all management in the club. I replied (repeatedly) that my role was media relations and not commercial, however I said that I would research the matter further.

Moreover, the final order from the chairman in this upsetting email chain was that I was not on any account to go near the press box at the Dundalk match on Friday night nor was I to speak with any member of the press.

I confess I did not follow that order. Every home match I meet with a local journalist in a personal capacity and assist him by carrying his laptop to the press box. I did this at the Dundalk match as normal. However, seconds after my returning to my usual match viewing position outside the club shop I was accosted by the general manager. In front of witnesses he shouted at me, inches from my face, that on no account was I to visit the press box again as ‘things were happening’, ‘things that were nothing to do with me.’  The following week my services were no longer required.

We all know the ‘things’ that happened afterwards. The half time press release, the recorded RTE interview, the players being told to go, the players being told they could not go, the investment promised, the investment not appearing, the FAI not getting involved, the PFAI getting involved, the players attempting to be available for transfer and the resignation of the chairman.

Then the two last press releases were issued that captured the attention of not only League of Ireland fans, but people across the country and indeed has garnered interest on an international scale – and not in a good way.

Although I must say there was some very fine humour on social media as a result, overall the response was one of astonishment, ridicule, hurt and upset.

The reason therefore for my writing this open letter was fostered in my treatment up to my being let go and my subsequent blocking from Bray on social media. I understand, although this has not been officially communicated to me, that complaints have also been made to the FAI about my sharing the subsequent social media. #WeAreNorthKorea

The reason for my writing this letter is that, as a PR professional retained by the club, had I been allowed to do my job, this painful month of communications would not have got past the thought stage.  We would not have become the laughing stock of the League of Ireland and beyond.

The reason for writing this letter is for the many fans who have been let down.

The reason for writing this letter is for Harry, his management team and the players.  They had no choice in the content of the press releases. They had no part in the games being played off the field. They had no choice even in being able to confirm that their jobs were safe. How could they play football in such horrible conditions?

The reason for writing this letter is to express the opinion that just because the management of Bray Wanderers could release such statements, does not mean that they should.

Without social media these ridiculous and rambling notions would not have seen the light of day. No journalist worth his or her salt would have reprinted them in their news outlet. Without social media, this would not have happened.

Just because Donald Trump chooses to tweet fake news and incendiary comments via Twitter does not mean League of Ireland clubs should follow suit.

Where is the dignity? Where is the respect for the Fans? Where is the respect for the Manager? Where is the respect for the Players?

For the love of League of Ireland would such statements be abolished and forbidden in future club communication or clubs risk having their licences revoked for untrustworthy, hate-speak and irresponsible communications.

All clubs should sign up to publish only truthful and accurate reporting. We should not condone ‘trash talk’ in the League. In fact, we should not tolerate what looks like the drunken rants of an unhinged and vindictive person or persons unknown.

We can all learn from mistakes. Let the lessons learnt from this catalogue of fiascos be that clubs should not have the right to publish anything they want. Let there be a code of ethics, a filter if you will, on what clubs may report on.

Today, the target has been the fans, the local councillors, the general naysayers. Tomorrow the target may be minorities, the vulnerable and even individuals. Cyber bullying is well documented. This should not be condoned in the League of Ireland.

I ask Bray Management to desist from any further intemperate, crazed and hate-filled rhetoric

I call upon the FAI to enshrine in its licence a code of ethics on club communication – with appropriate sanctions when clubs step out of line.

Yours Sincerely

A Seagulls Fan

Jillian Godsil

Please find enclosed my detailed job description. It was unfortunate I was not allowed to fulfil the final skill set. The irony is not lost on me.

Roles:

  1. Media Liaison Officer

Point of contact for key media relations in particular East Coast FM and local papers. Meetings with local media to confirm content and frequency of updates. Ensuring content is provided on a timely basis such as schedules, changes to same, regular radio appearances, news and other information. Contact with wider media as a backup to current Club contacts.

  1. Content Generator

Content and news generator for all non-mainstream sports updates. Content includes player news, family days, mascot updates and any activities. Generation of content to final signoff from the club. Provision of photography where appropriate also.

  1. Community Liaison PR Officer

Linking with Community to provide promotion of local events, including activities such as Halloween, family days and other local promotions.

  1. Team Promotion

Working with key players / management to build awareness of players and their personalities. Developing content for use in the programme, on the Facebook, website and with the media.

  1. Schools Programme PR

Working with Dermot and the schools’ programme to ensure promotion of educational activities.

  1. Newsletter

Once lists are managed and divided then I can set up newsletters for the different stakeholders. Currently these are season ticket holders, general fans and junior supporters. Once we look at the different target audiences we can decide if the newsletters need to be separate or can be combined – either way content can be shared across audiences.

  1. Crisis Management

Advice on managing difficult or tricky situations – providing clean media statements where required and handling media resolutions

 

ends

 

First Bonded Whiskey warehouse on Clare Farm

The lost art of whiskey bonding has been restored to Ireland once again after being neglected for almost a century.  Clare-born Louise McGuane returned to the family farm after an international career in the drinks industry to set up a new bonded whiskey warehouse on the farm, on a site nestled between the Shannon Estuary and the Atlantic. This unique micro climate will be used to create a very special flavour of whiskey – the first bottles of which will be available in five years’ time.

Louise has come full circle. She remembers growing up when the local creamery was still operational. ‘We bought the bulk milk tank down to the creamery using the tractor very day. I even remember the pails before that,’ she says. ‘Naturally, those are in the past but the community has retained its rural bearing.’

Now she is reviving another ancient tradition of bonding that had all but died out in Ireland. ‘Back in the last century many local grocers or pubs would also be bonded agents and blend or mature their own brands of whiskey. They bought the plain spirit off a main distiller and then matured it in casks for a number of years before blending their own whiskey.

‘Most local communities had their own whiskeys – all with their own unique flavour,’ she says.

Each whiskey derives the majority of its flavour, some 80%, from the cask or container in which it matures and in the local climate where it resides.

Back in 1930s Ireland, the main distillers began creating brands – such as Jamieson and Powers – and were reluctant to release whiskey to local blenders and so the local versions died out.

Louise has also bought in limited number of litres of aged whiskeys and employs a Master Blender. She will use these matured whiskeys to have her first ‘pilot’ whiskeys ready in September. ‘This is to create a path to market,’ she explains.

It will take at least five years to produce her own whiskey and she needs an active sales channel once the product is ready.

‘Of course, we don’t really know what it will taste like,’ she says. ‘But we do know it will be unique. Our coastal micro climate will influence the flavour, plus we have built a traditional warehouse leaving mud as the foundation. This will both moderate the temperature and humidity as well as ensure no other whiskey will taste the same.’

Louise’s inspiration comes from local Kilrush grocery and bonded whiskey maker JJ Corry. ‘We discovered that he matured his own whiskey locally and sold it in the community. He died in 1930 and I have visited his grave. I also discovered his shop was dismantled and removed to Bunratty Castle where it is now a tourist feature.

‘There was a lot of paperwork remaining in his shop, details about his whiskeys and their names, and so I decided to reclaim his brands. I trademarked them and now we are in production,’ she says. ‘It is wonderful to not only rejuvenate an old tradition but also to rejuvenate his original brands.’

Louise is very happy to be home and on a mission. In the twenty odd years she was away she worked at the top of her profession in sales and marketing for some of the biggest luxury names in drinks. She worked in the US, the UK and Paris France. Her contacts and experience are invaluable. While away, she and her husband saved up to renovate her grandmother’s house on the farm. Initially it was intended to be a holiday home but she realised in recent years that her career would keep her an international nomad and she wanted to come home.

‘There is something very satisfying to return home to a project like this,’ says Louise. ‘I looked at a number of possible projects but this one felt right. The barn, which currently holds 24,000 litres of maturing whiskey, looks as though it has always been there. That continuity is important to me.’

Louise initially crowdfunded to finance the proof of concept raising €45,000 through KickStarter. ‘That came mostly from the US and was without the sniff of a whiskey product. I knew we were onto a winner at that stage.’

She is currently working with a number of private investors and may turn to the EIIS tax relief scheme. Right now her project is eating money as the whiskey quietly matures on the farm. Down the line, Louise has plans to integrate tourism into her project, handling small tour groups before moving them off to the local pub for food and refreshment. In time too she is looking at parenting with a local brewing company.

‘I love being home on the farm,’ says Louise. ‘My parents are still going strong, farming beef and diary, and I love being part of the lifestyle and community.  While our first blends will be available in less than six months we will spend the next five years watching our whiskey, opening the casks and checking on the maturation process, helping it where needed and finally creating our final taste. It is a long, gentle process but I am excited already about the final product.’

Louise will have to patient. Her whiskey will mature all in its own good time, and not a moment sooner, surrounded by her parent’s inquisitive dairy herd and the every present flocks of seagulls.

First printed in Farm Ireland July 2, 2017