Championship future will be put on the line
Agreement has been reached for a pilot scheme to allow the Championship League to have official linesmen at matches from September 6.
But it promises to be an exacting time for the IFA and the league as there is no guarantee that all Saturday matches will have the required numbers.
At present, like other intermediate leagues, the Championship have to make do with club linesmen as there are not enough officials to go round.
On Saturday week, 65 referees are on the list for 67 matches. Four of them coming down from the Senior league will be given to the Championship clubs as will four assistants who would normally have been running the lines at senior matches.
But the Championship still need another 12 linesmen and where are they going to get them from?
The postponement of the Glenavon-Linfield game, might at least provide for one extra referee and two linesmen, provided they are available.
But that’s a headache for the IFA who will not be able to take referees to make up any shortfall from other intermediate leagues outside their domain.
It has been agreed that the system of allocation will be done on a monthly basis with the non-IFA leagues involved to make sure that the referee allocations are done fairly and properly with no ‘fiddling’ of the system whereby the Championship gets priority.
That inevitably, will present the IFA administration with serious problems throughout the season as officials drop out for one reason or another.
While there will be at least eight redundant linesmen at senior level each week, only four will be in use for the Championship as the Premier League need to keep four in reserve as linesmen who might be involved in European matches the following week, can’t operate at local level the previous Saturday in order to avoid injury.
So the IFA will be faced with a dilemma. If they can’t cover the Championship League fixtures, then those matches may have to be postponed unless the IFA cream referees from the Interim-Intermediate League or Reserve League whose matches in turn, will have to be covered by junior referees or cancelled.
And that’s assuming junior referees are available.
There are attempts to persuade junior refs to become linesmen for the Championship and there are a number who have volunteered but they must pass a fitness test .
This is the scenario that is about to unfold with fixtures in IFA leagues having to be switched from a Saturday or postponed.
In fact, the IFA should insist on all reserve football not being played on a Saturday as that would free up six referees.
Until something is done about recruitment, these problems will continue to dominate the local game.
Another shock for the Championship teams, is the new costs for a referee and two linesmen as imposed by the IFA Board.
Referees will be paid £70 as opposed to £40 in other intermediate leagues with the two linesmen receiving £35 each. That amounts to £140 and when you add in the mileage for all three, clubs are facing a home bill of up to £200 before one customer comes through the gate.
How long will some clubs be able to sustain that?
One season might be enough for them while others with Championship ambitions, may be forced to have second thoughts in view of the costs and uncertainties about officials.
There is an old saying. Be careful what you wish for, you might well get it.
The Championship clubs have got more than they possibly bargained for and will now have to live with the consequences. And the story does not end there.
Next season, the referees will be looking for more money which could jeopardise the league’s very existence.