Last week another amateur football club in Dublin announced it was going to fold.

It's not an uncommon scenario, but this one garnered significant interest because the club in question is St James Gate FC: a team established for the workers of St James's Gate Brewery 120 years ago, one of the founder members and inaugural winners of both the League of Ireland and FAI Cup, and a side that was playing in the First Division up until 1996.

Thereafter they dropped back into the amateur game, consistently operating around the top end of the Leinster Senior League.

St James Gate's rich history meant their demise sparked quite a reaction on social media. In the past week, some former players and committee members have agreed to come back into the fold, and on Wednesday it was announced they had been saved.

The Gate will go again in 2022, but the challenges they've faced just to stay alive will feel depressingly familiar to many people involved in amateur football.

St James Gate are based in Dublin 8. In that area alone there are probably 15 amateur football clubs, all of them scrapping for sponsorship, pitches to play on and, indeed, players.

The costs are rising. To play at any level in the Leinster Senior League this season a footballer must pay €90 for their insurance, plus weekly subs and an annual membership fee, which varies from club to club.

It's a financial burden that players in the 18-25 demographic particularly - students, apprentices, those who may not be in full-time employment - often shun.

The most recent Teneo Sport and Sponsorship Index (TSSI) report found that football is Ireland's most popular sport alongside Gaelic games - and yet many clubs are struggling to find enough committed players to fulfil their fixtures, let alone pay the subs and membership money that keeps the show on the road. For clubs who don't own their own ground, renting all-weather pitches to train on throughout the winter can also cost thousands of euro.

It's a relentless, morale-sapping grind that's proving too much for many to endure.

St James Gate's most significant blow came when Diageo - the company that owns Guinness - sold the Iveagh Grounds to Trinity College in 2017.

The Gate have been based at the Iveagh Grounds since 1928. They previously paid a membership to the now disbanded Guinness Athletic Union (GAU) that helped to cover pitch rental, use of gyms and access to dressing rooms.

"As part of the sale (to Trinity) we were granted a long tenancy lease (to remain at the Iveagh Grounds)... but we still have to fund all of that. It's not subsidised in any way shape or form," vice chairman Alan Sexton told RTÉ Sport.

"We've been knocking on the door of going out of business for the guts of five years.

"Five years ago, we had a Saturday side, an Under-19s and a first team. We were in a situation where we were cutting off limbs to save the body. We got rid of the Under-19s to let the 19s players flow up to try and rescue the Saturday side.

"The appetite for young lads is probably dwindling."

"A couple of years later we had to do the same thing with the Saturday side; we had to remove them to allow those players to flow into the first team just to fulfil the first team's fixtures.

"Every year it was getting a little bit more of a struggle. This year we were lacking in an awful lot of ways in terms of financial backing, players and committee members.

"In 2017, Diageo - who would have been our main source of income in terms of sponsorship and partnership - they sold our home ground the Iveagh Grounds to Trinity. That left us in a position where they cut all ties with us so we didn't have any revenue coming in from Diageo anymore.

"Covid hit in 2020 and left us in situation where a lot of the sponsors we'd have had weren't in business, or weren't in a position to sponsor us. Finding new sponsors after that was very difficult in a catchment area like Dublin 8/Dublin 12 where there's an awful lot of football teams out there who are all scrapping for the same resources."

There are plenty of amateur clubs in rude health of course.

Thriving juvenile set-ups feed into strong, well-established senior teams that boast excellent coaches and talented players, but such is the fickle, fractured nature of football - particularly in urban areas - that one team's success is often because of another team's demise as players simply migrate from one club to another, season to season.

Sexton added: "The club was derived from the brewery, it was a team for the brewery workers.

"When it became successful and started playing in the League of Ireland, they probably had bodies from all over the country, never mind all over Dublin, which meant there was a disconnect from St James's Gate and the Dublin 12 area.

"If you think of the likes of Bluebell United, Crumlin United, Inchicore Athletic.... they all have kind of a suburb or locality attached to them that has a direct connection to individuals within that catchment area.

"We have a bit of a disconnect when it comes to the Dublin 12 area, which is a little bit sad considering we've been there for such a long time. It's very difficult when you're trying to entice a young lad who is from that Crumlin United catchment area and you're saying to them 'come on down to St James Gate', they're like, 'well you're playing in a lower league and they are my local team'. It's hard to sell the dream to them."


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The Teneo Sport and Sponsorship Index shows participation levels and interest in football remains high, but that does not necessarily equate to the organised amateur game at senior level. Six-a-side astro matches are a more relaxed, casual way to engage with the sport and perhaps increasingly more appealing.

"Over the wall from our ground is Brickfield Park," said Sexton.

"About two weeks before we announced we were folding, two other clubs folded. There wasn't a mention online about it, there wasn't any outpouring, there wasn't any grief.

"We have got a bit of a history behind us but this is happening week on week, where clubs are struggling and having the same conversations we're having.

"I was speaking to a guy involved with a side in the top tier in intermediate football and he was saying up until last year he was knocking on players' doors Sunday mornings or Friday evenings to get them out to play games.

"The appetite for young lads is probably dwindling. It's so accessible to go and play astro football with your mates three or four times a week and a player doesn't have to listen to a manager moaning at him asking for subs.

"The appetite seems to have dwindled somewhat. In terms of recruitment it all makes things very difficult for Leinster Senior League clubs.

"It's obviously a sign of the times but I just hope that we become a cautionary tale, that this could happen to absolutely anybody."