Belfast Telegraph

Championship crucial to local football, says Andrew Johnston

By Keith Bailie

NIFL managing director Andrew Johnston believes a successful Championship is key to improving domestic football in Northern Ireland.

Earlier this week, NIFL launched a consultation process that will examine the structure of both the Premiership and the Championship.

In recent weeks Championship clubs have come under fire after The Park revealed that only four teams had applied for a promotion licence.

Johnston is concerned by the current situation.

“I think we've got to consider how the second tier operates. We can't have a competitive top division, without a strong second tier.

“Ideally we want to see a situation were most, if not all, teams in the second division are striving to gain promotion. There is a possibility that we won't have promotion and relegation this year, and that's not healthy for the league.

“We need to strengthen the pyramid, both within the Northern Ireland Football League and perhaps at a lower level. We want promotion and relegation to be fluid between the divisions, and we're keen that this is considered during our consultation process.”

All 30 Championship clubs will be invited to join the debate. Chief executive Johnson is keen to discover why so few clubs applied for the Championship licence.

“I'm really looking forward to hearing what the Championship clubs have to say.

“Sometimes people call us blazers, or pen pushers, who don't have to deal with the day to day reality of running a football club. Well, this process is our opportunity to talk to the clubs and to find out what the issues are.

“It's important we find out why some many clubs have not applied for a Championship licence this season. Is it funding? Is it man power? We need find out what the problem is and then put in place a mechanism that will help those clubs. We're mindful of the fact our clubs are run by volunteers who do a fantastic job. We want work with them to promote and improve the game.”

At the moment, the Belfast Telegraph Championship One is an intermediate division, which means its clubs participate in knock-out competitions such as the Steel & Sons Cup and the Intermediate Cup.

Johnston believes second tier clubs should consider the possibility of reverting to senior status.

“The status of the second tier is certainly up for debate. I'm sure it is something that a lot of clubs would like to talk about, but I'm also sure there will be a mixture of opinions.

“I've spoken in the past to experienced managers such as Whitey Anderson, Harry McConkey and Ronnie McFall, and they've all commented on the fact that it is very difficult to gain momentum in the league, as you're playing league football one week and cup football the next.

“Our UEFA advisor Tom Gorissen has talked about how it's important to have a regular fixture list, with teams playing home games on a regular basis.

“Strides have been made in that department in recent years as fixtures for the Championship used to be devised every four to six weeks, where as now we have the season long fixture list, but there is still room for improvement.”

The consultation process will start this week, with the conclusions announced in May.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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