The season is still nowhere near finished, and clubs are in a very bad financial state. This week around the game in Northern Ireland, we have had a few individuals making a lot of sounds – again about the money that clubs who qualify for European football earn. Calls are continuing to be made for the European money for the next season be split evenly across all member clubs.
It would not be the first time the NIFL changed something within the league because clubs were not happy and not getting a cut of the money certain clubs had been receiving for qualifying for the European competitions. In the 2015-16 season, a European playoff was introduced to give teams more of a chance to qualify. So instead of the top three teams in the league qualifying, it was reduced to the top two. Teams from 3rd all the way down to 7th then went into a playoff. The winner got the lucrative European slot.
This week, we have seen Ballymena United manager, David Jeffery, and former Cliftonville Chairman and ex-FIFA Vice President, Jim Boyce, calling for next season’s European money be split evenly across the clubs. Boyce himself called for some solidarity from the clubs to help in this time of need – he wants clubs to take a leaf out of his book. In 2015, Boyce was awarded an OBE for his services to football which he ‘dedicated’ to everyone in football in Northern Ireland. So Jim, is the OBE still in your house looking pretty? I don’t think you would just give away something you earned! Also, how did that actually benefit football in Northern Ireland?
In a sense, I get where Jeffery and Boyce are coming from to a degree. But looking at the bigger picture, I can also see why some clubs will not want to share it. After all, Northern Ireland lost a qualifying place in the European competitions for the 2020/21 season due to rankings. However, this was subject to change given the impressive performances of Northern Ireland clubs in this season’s qualifiers.
Linfield had a wonderful European adventure, as did Crusaders, which in turn has earned that extra place back for the 2021/22 season. So, probably for the first time ever, I am actually in full support of the statement that was published from Linfield Chairman, Roy McGivern. He says “Linfield reject opportunistic calls for the UEFA money to be shared“. He also went on to say “we have invested heavily to improve performance and also enhance the position of the Irish League within the European context. Revenues are rewarded on merit“. Enough said for me.
This brings me to the logistical side of playing European football. The Blues alone had to travel to the Faroe Islands, Montenegro, and Azerbaijan. Now, this is not just as easy as jumping on a low-cost airline and hopping across the water. This is an expensive move for all three trips. Yes, the Blues made in excess of 4 million pounds, but they earned it. The Crues this season were very lucky. They had a trip to the Faroes followed by a glamour tie against English Premier League outfit, Wolverhampton Wanders. The Crues did not win the game but put in a wonderful performance. But it could have been a lot worse. So, without European money, who will stump up the bill for this year’s travel?
Boyce should be using his influence to pressure the IFA in this time of financial uncertainty. The IFA is stating that the league will not restart before the 31st May 2020. But where is the IFA’s financial help at this stage? They have announced that clubs will benefit from money FIFA have released. But how much of that will the member clubs see? IFA President Patrick Nelson has asked the Northern Ireland Executive to help financially with the local game. Some Premier League Clubs are quite happy to ask the executive to help themselves for less important matters -surely the IFA should be helping the local clubs at this time.
I am all for clubs helping other clubs out in times of need. But as a fan, I am getting fed up of individuals looking to use money that clubs have earned on merit. Yes, the league may finish early and you can question the merit of this season’s qualification. But if we don’t kick another ball, the top three will qualify. They get there on merit as they should.