Belfast Telegraph

Linfield suffer a headache after dose of Friday night fever

By Graham Luney

It's been a bad few days for Linfield and they won't be rushing to play on a Friday night again.

And you thought the Cricket World Cup fixtures were as mad as an episode of EastEnders!

There are no excuses for losing to Portadown though. A Blues team with title-winning aspirations should be beating a Ports side depleted by the loss of their three strikers Darren Murray, Mark McAllister and Gary Twigg.

With Crusaders now six points clear at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership and only eight rounds of fixtures left to be completed, it looks, at the moment, like the Gibson Cup will be staying in north Belfast.

Warren Feeney and his men will not be looking back on their 2-1 loss to Portadown with great affection and it's well documented that Linfield and their supporters were angry the game was brought forward from the Saturday afternoon.

The Northern Ireland Football League has kicked off this Friday night experiment to see if more fans can come flocking.

If the circumstances are right it can produce positive results but this issue needs to be handled with courtesy and respect for the clubs and the supporters.

Timing is crucial and these fixtures should be pencilled in well in advance. Linfield say they weren't given sufficient notice the game was being switched and their frustration is understandable. NIFL are right to look at different ways of doing things and clubs should be willing to embrace change - but only when it suits them and their supporters.

The Irish League enjoys fantastic support from a hugely loyal fanbase and we should never take that loyalty for granted.

There's a very simple philosophy here - give the fans what they want and they will stay with you. Too many have sold their souls to the mega-rich pampered professionals of the Premier League in England and we cannot afford to lose more.

Clubs have been fighting for financial survival and even Linfield have cut their cloth. A failure to treat the fans with respect could signal the beginning of the end of the Irish League's revival.

Some fans do travel long distances to attend the big games and they don't deserve to be messed around.

Ports boss Ronnie McFall said he shared Linfield's frustration and argued that the host club should have the final say on fixture alterations. New ideas are welcome and in many situations clubs can reap the benefits of a game on a Friday night.

But now that the Barclays Premier League has plans to introduce their own Friday night programme, local football chiefs may think again.

After all the dismay generated by the switch, a healthy crowd turned out to watch the game at Windsor and had Portadown been in good form and with a stronger squad available, more away fans might have attended.

Linfield say that 2,079 fans attended the game, compared to 2,091 when the sides met on Saturday, December 20 at Windsor Park.

Only 164 Ports fans attended Friday's game - they went to the December match in bigger numbers - but the Blues crowd remained healthy.

So Friday nights can work but there must be better communication between clubs and NIFL representatives. Planning ahead is the key to success. Disrespecting fans is the key to failure.

Belfast Telegraph

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