Belfast Telegraph

Windsor Park is IFA's saviour

As the full cost of sacking former chief executive Howard Wells emerges, Robert Fenton explains why the Irish FA’s deal with Linfield is crucial to the survival of international and domestic football in Northern Ireland

Every year, the Irish FA AGM has to listen to those carping about the contract with Linfield for the use of Windsor Park as an international venue.

The upcoming annual meeting in Londonderry’s White Horse Hotel on Monday June 21, is likely to be no different.

In an illogical and bizarre viewpoint, those snipers, mostly from Linfield’s senior club rivals, believe that such rent should be frozen until the contract which entitles Linfield to 15 per cent of all revenue from Northern Ireland home games, is renegotiated.

Instead, they should be getting down on their hands and knees and be thankful that Windsor Park, for all it faults, is available for use.

Otherwise, the IFA would cease to exist and with it the Premiership which each year is gifted subsidies that no other league in the country receives.

And that cash flow, which enables the Premiership to run at a substantial loss, comes in the main from international returns which last year amounted to £4,042,342, enabling the IFA to report an annual turnover of £10,463,234 in this year’s accounts.

That amounted to £1,378, 207 more that the previous 12 months and produced a profit of £456,915 compared to a previous plus of only £61, 294.

The point is that it is essential Windsor is maintained as Northern Ireland’s home and let’s hope current talks about upgrading bear fruit, to ensure an essential revenue strand continues for the Irish FA.

This year’s profit figure would have been even better but for the, in-hindsight, bungled dismissal of former chief executive Howard Wells, which cost the membership in total, the grand sum of £516,000 in legal fees, out-of-court settlement and additional expenses.

That alone put the president Raymond Kennedy under pressure and he faced a bumpy ride at a couple of IFA Council meetings — the body which appoints the office-bearers.

The president admitted going against legal advice and argued he acted in the interests of the association.

He answered searching questions put to him and survived the roller-coaster moment without a no-confidence call or even a challenge to his role as he and the other office-bearers will be returned unopposed for next season.

So that’s the end of the matter unless an inquiry by Sport Northern Ireland into the Wells sacking, as they provided initial funds when the post was created, comes up with something sensational. It’s odds-on they won’t.

But while there can be some satisfaction over the profit which takes the IFA reserves up to £2,234,000, it’s more than half a million less than was in the kitty in 1999, although the figure is up on the previous year.

Coming back to the Premiership, it lost £89,465 up to the end of last March, an increased deficit of around £25,000 from 2009. And this occurred even with sponsorship going up from £50,000 to £75,000 and overall payments to clubs of £374,000 in prize money, an increase of £145,000.

Questions will be asked as to why the 12 clubs in the Premiership have not been surcharged for this loss or had it deducted from their payments?

That very question was raised 12 months ago in Enniskillen and the answer that came back from the company secretary Morris Corrin was that the IFAP was the most competitive league and that the general consensus was that it was hoped in a few years, the IFAP could not only sustain itself, but realise a profit from increased attendances.

Great play was made at last year’s AGM of attendances going up by 11 per cent, which was very welcome.

But in this year’s reports, there is no mention of the numbers who went through the turnstiles.

Currently, the chances of the Premiership becoming self-sufficient are limited because it has no need to while being cushioned by the rest of the IFA members.

Interestingly, there is a proposal from the Executive Board to change the name of the Irish FA Premiership to Irish Premier League, thus removing the ‘FA’ connotation.

Is that a sign of things to come whereby the league will be outside the association’s administration, say in another year?

The cost to the IFA in administering competitions including the Premiership, Championship, Reserve and Youth Leagues, was £231,250 while competition expenses totalled £896,240.

Last year, members were prepared to hold their hand before reacting to any call to divorce the IFA from running leagues.

Maybe that hand will now be forced in the light of the latest figures.

Premiership must wage war on clubs, not Nelson

The financial plight of senior clubs is well enough known with several facing serious debts.

Hence, the cry to cap players’ wages as advocated by chief executive Patrick Nelson who took over the rule last August.

In his first report he says: “We have focused this year, in partnership with senior clubs, on ensuring that clubs only pay the amounts they can afford for playing talent.

“Our clubs are now on the point of agreeing a Salary Cost Protocol to come into effect in the new season.

“This will be a critical building block in ensuring that the pinnacle of our domestic game remains secure and I would like to thank the clubs for their frankness and positive attitude in taking this matter forward.”

Wise words indeed as clubs must be saved from themselves to prevent the inevitable crash that is coming down the line unless they take a grip on exorbitant player remuneration which can not be sustained by income.

However, it is a matter for the Premiership management committee to bring in their own rules and regulations regarding this and devising penalties for those teams who would seek to breach any regulations. It is not something that can be enforced by the IFA as a governing body as each league is responsible for their own rules.

Incidentally, the fixation with Linfield’s rent money took an added twist when someone suggested that the Blues could not use their rent money for the paying of players.

That, of course, is a non-starter as Linfield ‘s money is their business and how they spend it is entirely up them.

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