Crusaders chief eager to see the plans for All-Island football revolution
Crusaders say they welcome ambitious plans to revitalise Irish League football and are keen to study details of the All-Island League proposal.
It is understood 20 League of Ireland clubs, plus the 12 current top-flight Irish League sides and Championship teams who have been in the Irish Premiership in the past five years, have been invited to attend tonight's meeting in Dundalk regarding the exciting new project.
Kerry businessman Kieran Lucid's idea is to bring the Irish League and League of Ireland together in a new structure combining clubs from both - a 14-team top tier and two 10-team regionalised leagues in time for the 2021 season.
Lucid and his team will give presentations on their plans and reveal how they believe they would benefit clubs in the north and the south, offering details on prize money, a potential lucrative television deal and sponsorship packages.
It's estimated that the annual revenue could be £8.5m, and it is understood a subscription TV company is waiting in the wings with an estimated £1.4m per year package on the table.
Significant hurdles remain, however, before the ambitious plan can come to fruition.
Among the major fears are a reduction in the number of European places open to Irish League clubs, whether the initiative is financially sustainable on a long-term basis and how supporters, including club members, will feel about the historic development.
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Crusaders' grants and funding director Mark Langhammer will attend tonight's meeting and believes the proposal should be considered.
"Crusaders FC, as a fan-owned and run club, would make any decision on an All-Island League through a decision of its members as a whole," said Langhammer.
"We would take such a decision on footballing and sports-business grounds, not on political grounds.
"The proposal for an island-wide league is strong on the commercial side and could be an attractive one in terms of football quality."
Langhammer added: “A step-change improvement in stadia and facilities is vital. There are concerns and issues to be faced, however, notably in terms of Uefa places, fan and travel considerations, the contribution of central and municipal government and the degree to which the respective governing associations would support it.
“A fair settlement from wider Uefa distributions for the domestic game is a pre-requisite, and that may be the major stumbling block for the IFA.”
The plan is to make the 34 clubs up from 20 League of Ireland sides, 12 NIFL Premiership outfits and two from the Championship. It is thought the top eight southern and top five northern clubs would be in the top division, with the other place determined by a play-off between the First Division champions in the League of Ireland and sixth-placed side in the Premiership.
At the same time as the All-Island League plan has emerged, NIFL has been consulting clubs over a seasonal change so that sides will be playing competitive football in the summer, leaving them better prepared for tough European tests.
Crusaders are among the clubs keen to embrace change, with a campaign running from May to February a possible option, but there remains opposition to any tinkering.
Langhammer added: “It is a ‘no-brainer’ that teams need eight to 10 weeks of competitive football before Europe, so we need an adjustment in seasonality, though we also need investment in facilities like we have seen in Iceland.”
Linfield chairman Roy McGivern says the club will study the All-Island League proposal while remaining open to a summer switch.
“Our position is we are open to recommendations on tweaking the season,” he said.
“We will see what NIFL produces and we are open to that debate. On the All-Island League we haven’t taken a position.
“We will listen to what’s on offer and need to know if it’s financially sustainable and beneficial to our clubs.”