The financial gravy train that Irish League football once was has come to a shuddering halt.
The crazy scenario where some players were picking up full-time wages for playing part-time football — a situation that has left some clubs in a serious financial mess — has, thankfully, all but died out.
And those who are still able to pocket more from what junior players consider a hobby than the average man on the street takes home from his 9 to 5 will be in for a rude awakening when their next contract is negotiated.
The Irish FA will enforce a salary cap from the start of next season, with clubs being restricted to spending 60 per cent of their ‘total allowable income’ on paying their playing staff.
Linfield manager David Jeffrey will have to deal with 16 out-of-contract players this summer and his message to any individual across the Carling Premiership who thinks that he can continue to command an unrealistic salary is to have a look at the number of people paying to watch them on a Saturday before they make such demands.
Clubs in the Carling Premiership simply can’t survive on gate receipts alone.
One or two have generous board members or chairmen, but there are no well-heeled Americans, Russian billionaires or Abu Dhabi trillionaires throwing their spare change into clubs in Northern Ireland.
Those lucky enough to qualify for Europe benefit financially to the tune of around £75,000 per round — but that is eaten into when travelling expenses are taken into account and only four teams qualify each season.
There are varying degrees of debt among some clubs, while others sail close to the wind and the consequences of a winding up order issued to Glentoran could have been fatal had they not been rescued by a mystery benefactor just last month.
Linfield can expect a crowd of around 1,000 for today’s home league game with Newry City and although this is the third of four home games in nine days, the Blues don’t play at home again for another three weeks, which means no more money coming in until then.
“Players in general will have to take a reality check,” said Jeffrey.
“They need to look around and see how many people are coming through the turnstiles on a week-to-week basis.
“People don’t have the money to come out to games sometimes two, or even three, times a week to fund clubs.
“Clubs will always look to bring in finance from other avenues, but sponsorship has been curtailed in the current financial climate and social clubs, which are a another source of revenue, aren’t bringing in the same money either.
“Players need to realise this. They only have to look down south to see what has happened to Shelbourne, Sporting Fingal, Galway United and the trouble that Bohemians find themselves in.
“The massive pay and the halcyon days in terms of finances are over.”
The introduction of the salary cap will impact on Linfield, even though there is a belief that their contract with the Irish FA for the
use of Windsor Park for home international games means they are immune to financial constraints.
Jeffrey will have to juggle whatever money he is given by his board as much as anyone else.
“It’s not that players are poorly paid or that they are going to be poorly paid,” said Jeffrey.
“We recognise that the commitment to play Irish League football is massive.
“Players are training two or three nights a week and playing on a Saturday. They have to live a disciplined life and there are sacrifices in terms of their families and work.
“We’ve always had a strict budget at Linfield no matter what some people might think.
“Any offers we make to players will fall within that and will be no more than what we can afford. If that’s not enough then it’s a player’s prerogative to go elsewhere, but the wage cap will be a wake-up call to them.”