Never in my lifetime have I ever experienced anything like what is happening across the world and the country we live in. Coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed the way we live for the foreseeable future. In these bleak times, football not just in the United Kingdom but across the globe has come to a standstill. Unless you are a fan of football in Belarus that is. What implications will this have on our own league? I do not know, but personally, the health and safety of everyone is more important than anything else.
I get a little confused sometimes when it comes to the ruling body within the Danske Bank Premiership. The Irish Football Association (IFA) have cancelled all football in the country until April 30th. Can I see football starting again then? No! This is an epidemic, and will not be going away anytime soon.
So, back to my confusion. I looked in anticipation to the IFA, to see what they would be doing to help clubs in this time of need. Clubs that already struggle to balance the books during a season, never mind trying to pay the wage bill without any gate receipts. Now the clubs with the European money, and big investors, might just be able to cope for a few months. But spare a thought for Warrenpoint. They pull in a home gate if they are lucky of around 500 fans every other week. So, the question is… how can teams like this survive?
Now the only person to come out and give any indication of funds being released to help clubs has been Andrew Johnston, Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) Managing Director. They have stated, “at the end of the season we would have been due to provide payment to clubs, but that is something we will review to see if we can bring forward some payments.” This is where it gets strange. Clubs get the money broken down from 1st to 12th.
Is the league going to tally up all the money and break it down evenly? Or is this going to be big clubs getting more than the little clubs? Or are they going to predict league positions? I really hope it is broken down evenly and we do not have another episode like the government funding for local stadia when one club gets told they are getting a bounty of 10 million and the rest can split the change down between them. Fairness for all needs to be the sensible way ahead here.
Managers have been making their voices heard about the need for help. Ballymena United manager David Jeffery has been calling for some sort of direction of what the IFA/NIFL are going to do to help. Jeffery has every right to ask. Glentoran manager Mick McDermott has also been making a few sounds about money. But I am beginning to expect it from McDermott when money is being handed out. His only worry is that they do not have to dip into his player fund for next season, which he clearly stated in a local newspaper – and wants help with the wages for this season. Like I have mentioned already this will hurt clubs like Warrenpoint hard. No investor and little gate receipts. Funding support shouldn’t be so that clubs don’t have to dip into their savings while other clubs could face collapse. There needs to be more clarity and soon.
Now former Cliftonville Chairman Jim Boyce has come out and had a chat with a few reporters. He thinks that European money should be split between all the clubs. How does that work? Boyce proposed that “next season UEFA payments for the three teams that eventually qualify for Europe should be split between all the top-flight clubs.” So, clubs that qualify for Europe and earn the prize money will have to split it. What happens if these clubs have to travel to, for example, to Istanbul to play their first game… who pays for that?
They surely won’t have the money to if the UEFA money has been split so the NIFL survives. What happens then if they get through the first and second qualifiers? The money tallies up and increases and so does their travel costs. It’s not just as simple as splitting some money between other clubs in the league.
How do we finish this season off? Now I would not be surprised if something absolutely crazy gets called to finish the season with the men we have in the driving seat within this league. We will probably have all 12 teams put in a hat, and they will be drawn out by Jackie Fullerton. Do I think this would happen? Not a chance, but I would also not sensibly rule it out. Who wins the Irish Cup? Will we play bingo for that? Teams in a hat and we draw the winner. Then we have Europe. Who deserves that? Loads of questions and if the league restart gets pushed back again I think they should scrap it and start again next year.
Who knows what will happen and hopefully sense will come to the fore. But from me to you – stay safe everywhere. Listen to the guidance that has been given and help each other. Stay at home and stay safe and let’s get to the finish line with this horrible epidemic which has pulled the world to its knees.