I have been critical of the NIFL and the management team around it, especially that of managing director Andrew Johnston. Well, Mr Johnston again has me wondering about his managerial qualities to run this business. The last we heard from the NIFL about the league starting was a provisional date of the 17th October 2020. If you look through any site and especially the NIFL’s site, there are still no fixtures on there for the clubs to have some inkling to who they will be playing.
I see that the NIFL has granted the start of the Woman’s Premiership, which is now in full flow and excelling. So, what is the problem with the male equivalent starting? What is Johnston’s main thinking here? Let’s face it, the statement his press office put out was that the league would have a start date when the legal battle between the NIFL and Institute was finished. This was due to the reckless way that the NIFL curtailed the league and relegated Stute.
Now this seems to have passed as the IFA appeals board judged that the NIFL had done nothing wrong in its handling of the way the league finished. Yet we have had weeks of clubs fighting over money and not once did the NIFL put their foot down and make a call on that. My question is still the same as it is every week: when are we going to get back to playing football again?
Clubs have already started to play. Larne are playing all their friendlies at home. This is because they are selling 600 tickets a game. Seems an easy fix, but yet the league is still at a standstill and Larne need to be getting money through the gates. Let’s face it, investors will want to see the dividends from their investment. Glentoran will have theirs with one win in a European pre-qualifier. Mr Pour will be happy with the return.
Other clubs are getting back to normal. Fans can be seen at grounds every game now as friendlies are being played. Yes, friendlies! But it is not competitive football. All we see in these games are teams who are changing the whole first team at half-time. Trialists are being played and fans are just not knowing what first 11 their team will start with when the season starts.
Away from all the confusion, unless the clubs have been advised something that has not been published, they have announced the new ball for the season ahead. Congratulations. Clubs have just kept bringing players in. Seems the pandemic and the lack of gate receipts has helped some clubs. Once again, Larne have been hard at it. They have that many strikers around the club, they could probably field three teams. They have recently added 20-year-old Andy Scott to their books. The lad spent most of his playing career in England with Accrington Stanley before a few loans away from the club.
Crusaders moved fast last week to acquire the services of Ben Kennedy. Another midfielder to go along with Hale, Thompson, Caddell, Forsythe, and Lowry. But they do need young legs in here. Baxter has six midfielders to pick from but plenty of experience as three of them are in the over-30 thresholds. Kennedy spent last season at Stevenage in the lower league of English football. Word has it he was on the Glens wanted list. The Crues have also been giving game time to two ex-Glasgow Rangers players, defenders Aidan Wilson and Ryan Finnie. Both are Scottish and it seems Baxter is looking for players to play at the back. He has only really left himself with Chris Hegarty. I do worry at this stage as he is still seemingly trying to piece together a back two pairing?
Glentoran moved in the past week to sign another up-and-coming kid in Dale Gorman, son of Irish league legend ‘Tony Gorman’. Gorman also spent time at Stevenage before returning to Ireland where the Glens have moved quickly to sign him up.
Glenavon has added experience to their ranks as Northern Ireland International Michael O’Conner signed a two-year contract. Yes, O’Connor is in his 30’s, but he brings with him a wealth of experience – stints at clubs such as Crewe, Scunthorpe, Rotherham, and Notts County. I suppose the current climate in the Irish league means nothing to some clubs that can spend like kids in a candy shop.
I will in the coming weeks try and capture as many movers as possible. But the English FA have now given the green light for coaches to continue their courses, so the next month will be busy for me. With everyone else moving forward, can the NIFL just tell us when, and how many fans can return, so we can get back to some sense of normality? If the woman can do it, why not the men? Grounds are big enough to bring fans back as they are never full on a Saturday. Some clubs are showing how they can bring fans back through the turnstiles safely. Let’s get the game back – please!