Belfast Telegraph

Summer move could give us a sunny outlook

By Graham Luney

it didn't take long for them to dance on the Irish League's grave, did it?

The morning after the official launch of the new Danske Bank Premiership the doom merchants were on the airwaves sharing that familiar cry with all of us.

"The Irish League is dying a slow death."

Relax everyone. This is no time to panic.

Take a walk up the Cliftonville Road, stop outside Solitude football ground and cast your eyes on the mural which reminds us that the club was formed in 1879.

Glentoran Football Club was founded in 1882 and the institution that is Linfield Football Club was founded in 1886.

I could go on.

Granted, Glentoran needed a wealthy benefactor to keep them in business – I wish I had friends like that – but they are still around.

I'll spare you the history lesson but a lot has happened in over 130 years.

Not even two world wars and years of horrific sectarian conflict could kill off Irish League football.

Do you think anyone with the slightest interest in our domestic game is going to let that history disappear down the plughole?

It's still a vitally important part of civic life in Northern Ireland and of course it's not perfect – nothing is. You could find fault in anything if you look hard enough.

Yes, the Irish League may have to adapt to survive but it will.

The medicine may not taste nice but it must be taken.

Everyone knows the crowds have dwindled away so how can we get them back?

Peter Dornan, an independent director of the Northern Ireland Football League, has argued the case for Sunday football. In my view, that's a non-runner. There's a bigger appetite here for a Sunday roast than Irish League action on a Sunday.

It's still regarded as a day of rest and in some of our cases, a day of recuperation after the night before!

Friday night games are an option for clubs and good luck to them if they want to go down this road.

While it may work for a few clubs it would be grossly unfair to ask players to travel long distances and fulfil an intense fixture after a hard day's work.

The most radical change proposed is moving the season to the summer months.

A recent survey conducted by this newspaper discovered that seven of the 12 Premiership managers would vote in favour.

When experienced bosses such as David Jeffrey and Ronnie McFall think it's a risk worth taking it's time to sit up and take notice.

I'm not convinced the switch will happen because there is opposition to it but I think it's worth a shot.

There are too many people playing football on a Saturday and too many others watching cross-channel football, either live or in pubs.

They might come out and watch the Irish League in the summer when there are no frozen pitches in sight.

There are a number of concerns in relation to any radical change but I'm reminded of Virgin Atlantic boss Richard Branson's motto in life: 'nothing ventured, nothing gained'.

It worked for him.

Sometimes if you don't take risks, you risk even more.

There's a kid kicking a ball against a wall in north Belfast dreaming of playing for Cliftonville against Celtic in the Champions League.

We must do whatever it takes to keep that dream alive.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph