The resignation of Alan Mathews and a number of key players last weekend means Athlone Town FC is now facing perhaps the biggest crisis in the club's 128-year history.
Mathews confirmed his resignation last Thursday, June 16, in the wake of the club being fined €5,000 by the Football Association of Ireland for failing to field a team against Waterford last weekend, after players refused to travel to the away game due to their wages not being paid.
The association suspended €4,000 of the fine on the condition that Athlone not repeat the offence again this month, while also appointing an outside committee to undertake an interim review of the club and make recommendations regarding its future.
With this weekend's game against Cobh Ramblers on the horizon and little indication of any change behind the scenes at the club, Mathews said his position had become "untenable" and issued his resignation. This was followed by an exodus of players, sparking real concern for the future of the Midlands club.
Athlone Town's financial woes were aired last year when a meeting was called at the Shamrock Lodge Hotel to determine the level of support in existence to keep the club competing in the League of Ireland. At that meeting the club appealed to the Athlone public for financial support and for more volunteers to get involved in the day-to-day operations at Lissywollen.
The meeting was attended by up to 130 local people who were assured that those behind the scenes at the club were determined to return Athlone Town to the Premier Division of Irish football in the near future. The chairman, John Hayden, told those in attendance that Athlone "is too big" a club to be languishing in the First Division of Irish football.
He also reassured supporters there was no pressing concern about meeting the club’s weekly wage commitments to players and management. He said the players and management were “aware” of the situation and of the public meeting taking place.
However, this year there were early indications that the financial strain on Athlone was approaching breaking point. The very first home league game of the current campaign against Shelbourne saw the match abandoned shortly before kick-off due to floodlight failure, the result of an unpaid ESB bill.
Low supporter attendance at matches and protests of late have seen the situation deteriorate further. Just last month manager Alan Mathews revealed that players' wages had not been paid and that some of his squad were only receiving a paltry €20 or €30 to cover their expenses.
If the club fails to field a team against Cobh Ramblers this weekend and incurs a further €4,000 in fines, one has to wonder what future it has.
Concerned supporters have organised an emergency meeting in the Shamrock Lodge Hotel this Thursday, June 23, at 8pm to propose a vote of no confidence in the current board. Protests are expected to continue at Friday's planned game against Cobh Ramblers.