The Irish FA’s administration has come under the spotlight following the revelation that the Irish Premier Reserve League was run in a haphazard fashion last season to such an extent that no records exist of any committee meetings or matches having taken place.
This came out at an investigation held by the IFA Disciplinary Committee into an allegation that Donegal Celtic's Liam Watson had played the first match of this season while under suspension.
The case was thrown out on the basis of “insufficient evidence to substantiate the claim,” said the Disciplinary Committee chairman David Martin.
“The matter was referred to us by the PIL (Championship) and after investigation involving the Reserve League secretariat and league chairman, there was no official information to hand regarding fixtures, results or match team cards for the entire season.
“The only information to be had regarding data and results came from the IFA website manager who inputs data provided to him.
“The Reserve League chairman confirmed that some results could not be taken as ‘bona fide.’”
Two matches involving Ballymena United Reserves were not played through no fault of theirs but were inputted as 1-0 results.
No league committee meeting took place to discuss the non-fulfillment of the fixtures.
One of the teams involved against United was Newry City Reserves who during the season had been fined £3,500 for playing ineligible players in 14 matches. They appealed and lost but the league committee then decided to reduce the fine to £1,000.
There was proof that the match in which Watson was red-carded for head-butting while playing for Ballymena United Reserves on April 18, did take place through a referee's report.
Watson received a four-match ban and it was alleged that the suspension carried over into the first match of the new season on August 2.
Ballymena United admitted receipt of the suspension but were unable to confirm that the player had been informed.
It appeared Ballymena had only three fixtures left before the end of last season for Watson to clear his suspension, but following the Disciplinary Committee’s inquiry, that point could not be proved conclusively.
In other words, Ballymena might have had more unfulfilled matches or ‘arranged results.’
“We were powerless to act because there was no proof to back up the allegation,” continued Martin.
“It was an administrative failing and the matter was not handled very well and we will pass our findings on to the Football Committee and the president who is currently the chief executive, for their consideration.”
Watson, who was out on loan to Ballymena, was also the subject of a registration dispute when he played in the match against Dergview in the Championship on August 2.
His registration was cleared by the IFA administration who failed to check the central registration system which would have told them that Watson was at that time still a Ballycastle United player.
The Championship Committee took three points off Celtic for that ‘offence’ and this decision which was against articles and natural justice, was upheld by the Appeals Committee but later overturned following a further Donegal Celtic appeal to an Independent Arbitration Panel which condemned the Championship Committee for sitting on the case as they all had a conflict of interest.
Consequently, they set aside the decision.
If the registration matter had been dealt with properly Watson would never have played against Dergivew and the issue of playing under suspension would never have arisen.
The chairman of the Disciplinary Committee added: "I spent a week and more investigating this and to be frank, the administration of the league was awful.
“It is appaling that all we had was a sheet of paper with a list of matches and results obtained from the person who organises the website."
Craig Stanfield, on behalf of the IFA administration, told the Disciplinary Committee that he was confident Ballymena United Reserves had played all but three matches — two against Newry City Reserves and Glenavon.
"Watson was a Ballycastle player on loan to Ballymena and while there was a list of fixtures and results, there appears to be no referees card about this case or any records for the Reserve League.
“It is bizarre but we are aware of the problem within the staff and it has been dealt with."
For decades the Reserve League has been riddled by suspicions of fixed matches, the use of ‘ringers' and games being played behind closed doors without referees for various reasons.