With no let-up in this horrible spread of COVID-19, all sport around the world looks to be taking the same stance – writing off their sports calendar for this season at least. Well, not when it comes to football in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Football League, (NIFL) are hopeful they will get the Danske Bank Premiership finished around the July/August time.
It is now 4 weeks since we have had any competitive football. And it doesn’t seem to be coming back anytime soon. With the non-stop ruthless spread of COVID-19, we still await direction on what will happen with the rest of the season – ‘if there is one’! The IFA and NIFL have said this week that direction will be given once it is safe to do so, but the NIFL has said they are committed to completing this season. They are looking at the July/August period to do this.
The implications of this will be a shortened season next year. Seems a little harsh, especially if you’re a player, not just for next season but more for this one. If it starts back again in July/August, players will not have had any training for 4-5 months. We have pre-season for a reason – to get players up to the fitness level needed to prevent injury and get the players working together as a team. Expecting players to come back in and finish a season is not really fair on them. A little more thought needs to be given here to the welfare of the players, not the welfare of the NIFL/IFA bank accounts.
There has also been talk this week from the Europeans governing body UEFA suggesting they will only grant places in next year’s competitions to those teams that finish in the top three within the Danske Bank Premiership. So the Champions, runners-up, and the third-place team would qualify. Bad luck for the team that wins the Irish cup. But the IFA still want to play their showcase final at the end of the season, even if the winners do not qualify for a European place. This will ensure that they once again cash in on the fans for the big final, whenever it may be.
The financial implications of the COVID-19 responses has already started to show. The first few clubs have had to use the government’s retentions scheme to furlong their staff. The scheme is a government initiative that makes sure employees receive 80% of their wages. Crusaders and Coleraine are the first clubs to do this. I am sure there will be more to follow but with some of the ridiculous wage bills across the league which clubs have been paying players, not all clubs will get this help with their playing staff, just their non-playing staff.
This has not gone down well in the Premier League with clubs of the stature of Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool using the furlong scheme for their non-playing staff. Clubs that are making millions are still using a government scheme to help them out. I would say a few more within the Danske Bank Premiership will follow this week.
There are still some real positives coming in from around the league this week. Dungannon Swifts have been showing there’s spirit in the community still. They have got together with a local charity to deliver food to community members in need at these hard times. Glenavon has also opened up Morneview Park as a drop-in centre for food packages for the local community. Flipping it around once again on the Shore Road, the good people have dug deep to help Crusaders. A fans’ project and supporters’ club have made two generous payments to help the club in this time of need. Just goes to show, you can have millions go through your accounts in the last few seasons, but a few weeks without football, every penny is needed.
— Dungannon Swifts (@DgnSwifts) March 31, 2020
Players have been taking to Twitter this week with different challenges and ways of keeping fans up-to-date on how they are keeping themselves fit. ‘Unless you live in London and think it is your right to go out into parks and mingle in the sun.’ But spare a thought for Faud Sules’ wife. He has been missing the physical aspect of the game and needs a strong challenge or two in his life again. I hope she has a sturdy set of shin pads ready!
I’m actually going to tackle the misses , I need to feel what it’s like again😡
— Fuad Sule (@Fudzer) April 4, 2020