As the local football season got off to a faltering start, Robert Fenton of the Intermediate Committee gives his view on where it all went wrong.
Senior match official David Malcolm has been leading the fight to get referees a better dealLocal football took a kicking when the new JJB Irish Premier League started seven days later than planned. Much has been said and written in terms of apportioning blame with those at the top of the IFA running for cover, calling for an investigation into themselves.
However, let's get one thing crystal clear. The group solely responsible for no Saturday matches at senior level on week one was the Referees' Association.
They held a cannon to the IFA's head and the governing body's leading personnel who were given the runaround by the Referees’ Association with a masterful performance in terms of spin which exposed the IFA as being out of their depth in PR, negotiating ability and how to deal with emergency problems.
Agreement had been reached with the senior clubs, so any grievance about fees was ended no later than the previous Thursday evening.
In my view, that’s not what the referees expected as they were itching for a fight at any price.
They wanted to make an example of the IFA over a lack of response to their April letter and over an IFA sub-committee which went against the recommendation of the IFA board about an offer. Little did they know that the referees had someone filling them in on what the IFA was thinking.
The sub-committee was told to offer £110, but the senior members said: “£100 and that’s our final offer.”
The referees rejected that, forcing the IFA to concede their full demand for £120 now. They aim to get it up to £170 within three years.
Hence they needed something else to hang their hat on as they couldn’t hold the high ground after agreeing £120 for senior referees and £60 each for assistants and the fourth official.
Their demands regarding the Championship are not within their remit as referees have no say as to who will officiate and whether or not official linesmen will be appointed instead of club representatives.
But as they were determined not to operate at senior level on the opening day of the season, come hell or high water, they needed something else to focus on and hence the ‘packaging’ of their offer which the IFA president informed the Intermediate Committee about on August 7, five days after the Championship had started!
Responsibility for the latter rests with the Intermediate Committee of which I proud to be a member.
It is one of the most proactive committees in the game — they spent five years patiently bringing the IPL (Championship) into being, based purely on ground criteria and nothing else.
The reason for the non-use of official linesmen is simple. There are not enough referees to allow this to happen at this time.
When the request was made to the Intermediate Committee by the IFA administration and members of the new league to have proper linesmen, the response from the committee was simple.
They welcomed it in principal but because there are only 60 referees for 67 matches each Saturday at this level, it could not be done. Out of those 60, at least five would not be available on any match day, reducing the numbers further.
Hence the committee accepted that, but added they could not permit the Championship to pilfer referees from other leagues of equal status and also junior leagues, simply to satisfy the interests of one section of intermediate football.
All last season, the First Division games went ahead without official linesmen, as have two series of matches in the Championship to date.
The real reason for the Referees’ Association trying to establish a higher tier of intermediate football, is to protect officials who will now find themselves redundant on a Saturday — they have always refused to referee at a lower level.
But now they have nowhere to go except intermediate and junior football and will be paid less. Hence the referees’ demand for £70 for refereeing in this league with £35 for assistants — the same money they were paid at senior level in 2007-08.
Now the referees have agreed to return to the status quo — no linesmen and a fee of £30 — until September when a pilot scheme, allowing official linesmen, might be introduced, provided the nuts and bolts of the scheme meet with the approval of the committee and the Championship clubs.
The IFA was exposed as not being up to the mark in negotiating skills, diplomacy and the handling the media. These need to be addressed and quickly otherwise the IFA will become nothing more than a laughing stock, if it is not that already.