Danske Bank Premiership

The clubs have yet to agree on the best option to finish the league. But as a fan, I feel it has been one of the most embarrassing weeks in Irish league football. The only thing the clubs are trying to get their hands on is the European money. I get that the money goes a long way for the clubs that deserve it, but there has been too much jealousy through the past few seasons. All eyes are aimed at the clubs getting their hands on the golden pot.

Let’s face it, if you finish the season off and get yourself in a position to qualify for the money – Congratulations and well done, you deserve it. Simple eh? Not for this league and the clubs that now demand it for nothing. Most of the clubs demanding the money would not even have applied for a European Licence.

The week took off as we expected – the clubs playing political games with each other. They had until 1700 on Thursday to come up with a solution – which was then pushed to Friday. Linfield and Coleraine would not share the European money while the other 10 member clubs would. Even with no consultation with UEFA to see if this can be legally done. Why should they? Cliftonville says they have been silent but yet their chairman sits on the board at the NIFL and was appointed onto the board of the Steering group (the group that was formed to come up with the best possible options to finish this season).

There were options that the clubs had been backed into a corner to vote on. Let’s not forget they were giving the options on Tuesday and had a 1700 deadline Thursday. The clubs are run by volunteers that have a day job.

  1. Return and conclude the season in a condensed 33 games format. Clubs would be made to come back and play two more games each to finish the season. (Steering group’s recommendation).
  2. Curtail the season immediately and adopt a mathematical formula to determine all-league placings. (Steering group’s alternative option).

Let’s look at the options in a little detail. Condensing to a 33-game format and bringing the players out of 7-8 weeks hibernation to complete the league with a further two games. So in the NIFL’s statements over the past few weeks, one of their messages has been the intent to: “Protect the health and wellbeing of all individuals (including players, staff, officials, spectators, volunteers and other stakeholders) in line with government and medical guidance advice.” Well, you have not adhered to that. We are in the middle of a global pandemic to start with. Also, you have players that will not have kicked a ball for two months. Is that protecting the well-being of the players? No!

Curtail the season but put together an independent group to come up with a mathematical formula. This has stumped me. If you look to the right of the league table, it is there clear to see. Points earned! The points the teams have accumulated to date. So what formulae do you intend to go with? Form table for the last eight games, Home form, Away form, Head to head… I am clearly not sure what they are implying here.

So, they also state ‘they are ensuring the financial sustainability of member clubs’. How? Clubs will be playing behind closed doors, and for a club to test its players for COVID-19, it will cost in the around £12-13k per club per game. Who foots that bill? At present, the NIFL/IFA has done nothing to help the financial plight of clubs. Well other than write to the Northern Ireland executive asking for money.

They also state that they are ‘preserving the sporting integrity of the league’. Really? The bottom two in the league have been in a battle for most of the season with 2-3 points between them. You are now asking unfit players to come out and play for survival over two games. Also, if they go for option two there is no telling how this magic formula will relegate clubs. This is the same governing body that made the Crues play their last five games away from home last season, making sure there was no income generated for the club.

That was alright for them and every other member club to watch happen. But yet we have twitter trolls having a go at the Crues. I’d like to see the other top teams be asked to play their remaining five games at the split away from home. Personally, I think UEFA should now be looking into Andrew Johnston and his NIFL leadership and treatment of a member club. Zero income for the last five games? Now, this!

The NIFL have now shown themselves up to be incompetent and the man at the helm, managing director Johnston, not fit to lead. The NIFL committee is headed by Brian Adams and Gerard Lawler. Adams (Ards’ Chairman and NIFL Board Chairman) is the chairman of a club in the Championship that has been squatting around grounds for the last 15 years after losing their stadium due to crippling debts. As for Lawlor (Cliftonville Chairman and NIFL board vice-chair), the main reason the Reds have been so quiet in all of this is that this man is sitting in the ear of Johnston, advising him on the correct scenario with yes zero interest towards his own. Ok, ok…

So, this brings me to the Steering group that was set up to come up with the two options to finish the season. And surprise, surprise, they didn’t look far. Adams and Lawlor once again in the middle of it. Must have taken all of 5 minutes to pick that committee. Surely this should have been independent, not the same board members who want to, I am sure, have the interest of their own clubs in mind. It didn’t work. More incompetence.

Onto Thursday and the NIFL’s deadline was not met and the next plan was pushed across the table: finish the season (playing all 38 league games) later this year with fans. European money to be shared between the 12 members clubs. Surprise, surprise, we hear European money again still without putting it to UEFA. How do we work out who qualifies for the European slots? Use the table after 22 games and the top three get the positions. Linfield, Cliftonville, and Glentoran. With 22 games, that would hit Coleraine the hardest.

At present we have no clear direction. NIFL has now got to go back to UEFA and explain to them that they have no clear plan to finish the league. The only UEFA member association that still has not got a clear picture of how the league should finish. If the IFA would delve into their own pockets, we might not see this fighting over European money. Another option, why not spread the £200k rent they pay Linfield every season for the rent of the pitch? At present, all I can see is the Blues using the facilities and the IFA paying them for the pleasure as we clearly have had no National football. But with the IFA needing to bring in a new manager, that’s probably why they are shy to push some well-needed money out to member clubs.

What an absolute embarrassment the NIFL and the IFA have turned out to be. IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson needs to take a long hard look at himself and be questioned to why he has zero interest in the local game. The NIFL Managing Director Andrew Johnston should now walk from his job. He gets paid to sit at the top and has lost all control. Last season’s split did it for me but because it was the Crues, no one batted an eyelid.

The man is not fit to lead, he is just pulled from pillar to post by the likes of Lawlor and Adams, ‘one of whom doesn’t even have a club in the Irish Premiership’. Enough is enough, this man needs to walk for the integrity of the league. What a few weeks we have ahead. But on a plus, it will keep people entertained and clubs sweating over the ‘European money’.