Congratulations to Linfield Football Club who have eventually been crowned Champions of the 2019-20 Danske Bank Premiership. It does not matter how they won it, but the evidence was there clear to see – they were in the top spot for a reason. A big well done also to Coleraine Football Club who came a close second. Institute have been relegated and Portadown will be back in the big-league next season after being confirmed Champions of the Championship.
After months of what can only be described as a circus from the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL), we have eventually come to a mathematical conclusion to the league. I have been trying to piece together the soap opera that was going on between the clubs and NIFL. Conference after conference and they could not come up with the perfect solution. All because of the money the European qualification gives you. This has shown how corrupt the local game really is: it’s dog versus dog out there.
There were two clear possible solutions that the NIFL gave teams to finish the league, but the clubs could not agree on them. The Crues came up with another option and the clubs could not agree on that either. So, the NIFL went for the mathematical solution and curtailed the league. I find this a little strange that they needed to pay an independent body to give them a mathematical solution. When you look at the standings without it, they are clearly the same. But it is the NIFL we are talking about here.
A lot has been said about the Blues and the Bannsiders not wanting to share the money they will get for European qualification. I have been a big advocate for them not doing it, why should they? It should be up to the Irish Football Association to help clubs out in this time of crisis because we still have not seen the full damage COVID-19 has had on teams. This has caused storms throughout the league and has brought to the surface what some of the clubs in the league are about. It also has put a big light on a certain club who will struggle financially without it.
So, what’s next for the league and what are we moving forward to? There has been talk that the league will start back with fans. I am sure at this present time it would be all right to have fans back. Let’s face it, the stadiums are not full week in week out. The Irish Cup will be played to a finish with Coleraine, Linfield, Cliftonville, and Glentoran in the last four. The winner of that gets the last European slot. If Coleraine wins it, then the Crues will go into Europe. Not that they have deserved it after this season’s showing.
What’s next for the clubs? Two clubs have the backing of big investors and should be grand. The Blues will always be ok with the added £200k bonus they get every season from the IFA. But I worry for the likes of Warrenpoint and other teams down at the bottom end of the league. How do they sustain the club now? For me, I think the club that will feel it hardest will be the Crues.
The Crues came out with a long-term plan and handed Stephen Baxter a five-year contract to fulfil this plan. They had been working to do better in Europe and bring a professional set-up to Seaview. Despite this intent, they have played badly most of the season and have potentially failed to qualify for Europe. You can blame the players all you want, but a lot of the blame sits with the manager. Rotation system, players out of position, and route one direct tactics with no plan B has caught them. The Crues’ business plan has failed, but who is to be held accountable? The Crues will likely need to release players because the European money will not be there for the next season.
I personally think the Blues would have had enough in the tank to win the league if it continued. I am very sure that Mick McDermott and his Glentoran team will do everything they can to win the Irish Cup. As for Institute, relegation was a hard pill to swallow and they were engaged in a great battle at the bottom with Warrenpoint. I think there are bleak times ahead for them.
Well done to Portadown on winning promotion, but as I have previously written, they have been running the club on negative income. Matthew Tipton will 100% have to strengthen his team to try and survive for more than just the season in the Danske Bank Premiership.
The league is over and we now wait for the direction of what will happen next. Fans in, or fans out? When will the league start again? A lot of questions still need to be answered and I am sure within the next few weeks they will. We are all itching to get back watching and enjoying the game again.