Belfast Telegraph

Backlash as Linfield consider ditching no Sunday games rule

Linfield chairman Roy McGivern
Linfield chairman Roy McGivern
Jim Allister

By Staff Reporter

A high-profile MLA has criticised suggestions by Linfield FC's chairman that the club might be forced to play Irish League matches at Windsor Park on Sundays.

TUV leader Jim Allister said he thought the indications from chairman Roy McGivern - as the club gears up for a crunch two leg playoff in the Europa League this week - would be a 'retrograde step' for football in Northern Ireland.

Change would require the south Belfast club to change its constitution, as it currently forbids home games being played at Windsor on Sundays.

But it could happen as a result of its stunning success in the prestigious European competition.

If Linfield defeat Azerbaijan's Qarabag in the two-leg playoff which begins on Thursday this week, they will go forward to the group stages of the lucrative tournament - and could be the first Northern Ireland side to reach that stage.

Linfield have already received just over £1.2m from a European campaign - and their prize money will hit the £4m mark if they can reach the competition's group stages.

The Europa League games are normally played on a Thursday night, while Irish League games are normally held on Saturdays.

But Linfield chiefs feel that - if they reach the group stages of the Europa League - their team will need an extra day to recover from their Thursday night fixture before playing again.

Hence the proposal to move Saturday games to Sundays, despite the long-standing 'Never On A Sunday' rule in its constitution.

Mr McGivern said: "To reach the group stages would be huge for the club and many things need to be taken into consideration.

"We will have extra games - and that will have an impact in terms of scheduling our league matches.

"We can't play home games at Windsor Park on a Sunday because of a club rule.

"Will we have to change that? Probably, but our members will decide that.

"Linfield can play away on a Sunday but there must be a rule change for a home fixture.

"We will be a few games behind other sides and that's the price for being successful in Europe.

"The whole image of the club will be lifted and there's obvious financial benefits."

However, possible change to the club's constitution has been criticised by North Antrim MLA Mr Allister.

"I think it will be a retrograde step," Mr Allister said.

"They've had that rule for a very long time.

"To use the exigency of this present situation as an excuse for changing it permanently I think would be inappropriate - and out of keeping with the culture and tradition of Irish League football."

The ban on Sunday football matches was lifted by the Irish Football Association only in 2008, despite protests from the DUP and evangelical campaigners, including the Free Presbyterian Church.

The first match held on a Sunday since the ban was lifted was an Irish Premiership match between Glentoran and Bangor at The Oval in Belfast.

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