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Billy Weir

Irish League needs football's leaders to provide solutions, not more hot air

Billy Weir


Title talk: Coleraine take on Linfield earlier in the season, whether they meet again is unclear

Title talk: Coleraine take on Linfield earlier in the season, whether they meet again is unclear

Title talk: Coleraine take on Linfield earlier in the season, whether they meet again is unclear

It seems an awful long time ago since Mark Randall's goal gave Larne a win over Glenavon on the evening of March 7.

That was 47 days ago, as near as damn it seven weeks without a ball being kicked in anger, and, quite frankly, we are, if anything, farther away than ever in wondering just what happens next.

As is stands there are still seven Danske Bank Premiership games to go, the title nicely poised between Linfield and Coleraine, who are four points behind the champions.

Then come four teams who, may or may not, be in the hunt for the last remaining European spot, or the golden egg as we like to call it.

Three points are all that separate Crusaders, Cliftonville, Glentoran and Larne and the caveat to that third spot is that it only becomes anyway useful if Coleraine were to go on and win the Irish Cup.

They were due to play Ballymena United in the Irish Cup semi-final, with the Glens taking on Paddy McLaughlin's men in the other last four clash, but, hand on heart, can we see any of these matches taking place anyway soon? Or at all?

Uefa did what they do best this week - had a big meeting and came up with precisely nothing. Not a sausage, chorizo, bratwurst, chipolata or your own favourite tube of pork.

They had indicated previously that any domestic league cancelling their seasons now could face expulsion from the Champions League and Europa League, a potentially devastating blow for our teams who invest heavily to get a nibble at the continental carrot.

But with Belgium already cancelling their league and neighbours the Netherlands likely to follow, plus others across Europe, they seem to have rowed back on that original threat.

"There was a strong recommendation given to finish domestic top division and cup competitions, but some special cases will be heard once guidelines concerning participation to European competitions - in case of a cancelled league - have been developed," Uefa said after their huge conference call on Tuesday.

You any clearer? No, nor me. Another meeting is to be held today of the executive committee but don't hold your breath for any sausages.

David Jeffrey tossed a moggy amongst the magpies this week when he suggested that the top three progress to European competition but the money would then be divided over all 12 clubs.

Former Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce backed his call but, hardly shockingly, Linfield chairman Roy McGivern was less than impressed with the suggestion.

"It is imperative that European places and the resulting revenues are awarded solely on merit and we would reject what we view as opportunistic calls for a wider distribution of European incomes this season," he said.

Coleraine counterpart Colin McKendry took a more conciliatory tone when he said: "We have to look at all options but if football is not achievable this year Uefa will have to make big decisions and financial compensation would need to be addressed."

And therein lies a huge problem. The three teams who do 'qualify' now - Linfield, Coleraine and Crusaders - will bag a minimum of £200,000, but if you were Cliftonville, who are level on points with the Crues would you be willing to say 'aye, go on ahead, it's for the best'. Hmmm...

And what about the likes of Portadown, who look poised for a return to the top division after their spell in the wondrous wilderness that is the Championship? Are they promoted automatically to a bigger Premiership? Then again, it is Portadown, they'll probably make a horlicks of their admin and find themselves in the Mid-Ulster League when we resume.

The suggestion that we play games behind closed doors is a nice idea in an ideal world, but we are far removed from that at the moment. It may work in the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga or wherever TV rules the roost, but not here.

Not only, in brutal terms, is the risk to players, managers and officials in playing, but with clubs having already furloughed their players, as soon as they start training that money stops and then there are no funds coming in to pay them.

If Uefa want to help, then stop having sessions on Zoom, make a decision for everyone to follow.

We could finish the season behind closed doors if the necessary funds are put in place to ensure the safety of players, if that means testing and testing again before games, so be it.

Money is needed to compensate clubs for lost earnings - it is hardly fair on the five clubs not in contention for a European spot to be expected to stop furloughing just so Linfield, Coleraine and one other can fill their boots.

To let the top three into Europe could open a legal minefield.

Larne chairman Gareth Clements, a man who lives and breathes the game here, summed it up perfectly for me in a social media post yesterday: "Forward thinking, guidance and support from government, associations and power-brokers at the top table of world football required to help clubs at all levels steer their way through this."

Leaders, it's time to lead, not have another meeting.

Belfast Telegraph