Away from the movers and shakers and the European adventures this week, we have had an announcement from the men in the funhouse at the NIFL headquarters. They have given a provisional date of the 17th October 2020 to start the 2020/2021 Danske Bank Premiership Season with fans in attendance. Let me just put it out there from the start. With a few fans in attendance at the final, the Irish Cup has been completed – 500 fans to be precise. Most Irish league clubs don’t even fill half their grounds on a weekend. Try my own team, two sides of it if you’re lucky. The National Stadium, even with the biggest supported club in the country, still has three sides empty.
I for one want the football to start back sooner rather than later and safely. But once again we have people in jobs within the NIFL that know nothing about the local game and how many people attend. If it is going to be a problem, get another think tank together and come up with ways to get fans in. Spread them out, maybe just home support to start with, or even open it up to season ticket holders only. That’s me looking at the wall in two seconds thinking. This lot is probably on £40k/year each, and have no clear direction or leadership qualities. Just remember the European money fiasco.
So the NIFL statement has outlined the reasons for their logic. Now we should take into consideration that there has been no real direction from the NIFL. If there was, teams would not be playing pre-season friendlies 10 weeks out from the start of any campaign. Well, the teams that have qualified for Europe would, but not anyone else. The Crues must have forgotten they didn’t get the golden ticket this season. The first wonderful bullet point of their logic reads, “The decision of the IFA Appeals Board in relation to outstanding appeals submitted by Institute FC and the PSNI FC in regards the conclusion of the season 2019/2020”. This clearly tells you that it is the IFA telling the NIFL what to do with in regards to restarting the season. The IFA is being taken to court over the reckless way the league finished and the way Institute was relegated.
The next detailed bullet point reads, “The safe and viable return of spectators to grounds in line with the NI Executive restrictions and the agreement of the respective league management committees.” Was the Irish Cup just a trial run that didn’t work? I get the IFA had to push the Irish Cup due to the lucrative TV deal, but fans still made it in. Which goes back to my point on the National Stadium on a Saturday, you can clearly spread out around it.
Anyhow, away from the people that are supposed to be the leaders within the league, I will start a catch-up around the clubs with the movers and shakers this week. Clubs are going to have to work hard this season – a lot of thinking is going to be needed for clubs to work out how to stop David Healy’s Linfield. The team Healy has put together is something else. I thought over the last few weeks that teams would have been going all out to try and make a go of it with the Blues, but it’s still early.
Crusaders have set their stall out to what they are about for the next three seasons. 31-year-old Jordon Owens has signed a three-year contract to stay at the club until he is 34. I have been wondering what direction the Crues would take this year in their playing style. Time for a change? Clearly not! I think we all now know how it will go. Also staying with him for three years will be Philip Lowry, Billy Joe Burns, and Declan Caddell. Statement of intent! All now in their thirties and getting a three-year contract.
Great to have the experience, but last season was not good enough. I was surprised to see them all get three-year contracts. But Stephen Baxter has his own vision, his football philosophy, and we have just got to trust him. His decision to grant three-year contracts can be questioned too if it makes good business sense, but he can be judged at the end of the season on results and getting back to some consistency. Leaving the Crues this week was the younger Owens brother, Kyle. Kyle has signed for ambitious Championship side Dundela after spending the second half of last season on loan at Ballymena United.
The league runners-up Coleraine have also added to their squad last week, with the addition of Curtis Allen. Evan Tweed joins up with the Bannsiders after spending last season with relegated Institute. Irish Cup winners Glentoran said farewell to two more players last week. as experienced pair, Gavin Peers and Marijan Antolovic have both departed the Oval. Peers has moved to Warrenpoint and Antolovic has returned to his native Croatia to look for football. The Glens are also closing in on the signing of Gibraltar International goalkeeper Dayle Coleing. The keeper was named the Gibraltar Premier Division’s Goalkeeper of the season last term. Take from that what you want.
Cliftonville have this week started to offload a few players. Well, they have put them on the transfer list at least. Aaron Harkin, Caoimhin McConnell, and Rohan Wilson have all been made available to other clubs for the right price. Newcomers Portadown continued to mould a team for the season ahead. Callum Ferris and Liam McKenna have both signed contract extensions. Keep an eye out for 18-year-old Ferris. The striker has been getting a lot of plaudits around the game. The Ports have also snapped up Nathan Kerr on a free transfer. The defender has had a spell within Glentoran as well has as spending time at Stevenage in the English lower leagues. A good, strong, and experienced acquisition to have around the club.
Ballymena United have been busy this week also releasing some players off the books. Young defender Reece Glendinning has left the club. Aaron Burns was put on the transfer list, and within a few days, he was released from his contract. Burns is clearly a talent. I would love to see him get his head down and produce the form he showed when he was at the Blues. Think he needs to get it into his head that he is no longer a Linfield player, and push on and show the talent he has somewhere else. Last season’s signing from the Reds, Ross Lavery, has also had his contract terminated by mutual consent. Conor Quigley has been told to find a new club as his contract will not be renewed.
Glenavon announced last week that Josh Daniels has left the club and signed for English League One side Shrewsbury Town. This will have a few clubs within the Irish League that have money wondering why he signed for the Salops. Well, he has signed for a professional club in a very competitive league. Shrewsbury is a wonderful club and has a great set up when it comes to development. Daniels will thrive with the move and will be testing himself week in and week out to show the potential he has.
Last but not least, I move onto Carrick Rangers and Warrenpoint Town. Carrick this week tied down another young talent in Lee Colligan for another year. They have also signed Alexander Gawne from the Bannsiders on loan. Gawne spent the second half of the season on loan at the Loughshore Arena. The Point have been busy this week as well. As already mentioned, Gavin Peers joins up with them for the 2020/2021 season. Also staying on for the season ahead will be Adam Carroll. Carroll spent the second half of last season on loan from the Blues. The Point also snapped up Matthew Knox. The Scottish winger has had spells at clubs such as Livingston, East Fife, and Berwick Rangers. It will be interesting to see how he copes with the Danske Bank Premiership.
A busy and interesting week, which I am sure will be normal for the next few weeks until we get clarity on when the clubs get back to playing and making money. No money through the gates will mean more players on the transfer list, released and some players with uncertain futures ahead. Let’s get back to playing, as this can be done and safely.