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Football in Northern Ireland will rebuild and thrive again, says Irish FA chief Martin



Irish FA president David Martin

Irish FA president David Martin

Irish FA president David Martin

Irish FA president David Martin has backed football in Northern Ireland to come out fighting again after being battered by Covid-19.

Games have been suspended since March with all internationals, including Northern Ireland's Euro semi-final play off with Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the remainder of the Irish League season put on hold.

The Irish FA is hoping the NI Executive will allow football to return sooner than many feared but there is a real danger some supporters, worried about the health risks associated with large gatherings, will be lost to the game.

And amid predictions of a long and severe post pandemic recession, clubs and the association are facing a financial hit, with sponsorship and advertising opportunities harder to secure.

"We may not have as many fans through the gates and it will be difficult for football to generate revenue," said Martin.

"I'm confident, however, that the game will recover from this crisis but it will take time and each club will need to have a fresh look at their finances and budgets while the commercial outlook is uncertain.

"For the Irish FA, there are huge challenges, like there are for every business. We aren't immune to the commercial difficulties but I have no doubt we will meet the challenge, deal with it and prosper as an organisation."

Martin added: “With regard to the possibility of Northern Ireland games without supporters, it will present a significant challenge for the IFA but I have no doubt we can overcome that and still be able to deliver the programmes we are committed to delivering.

"On June 17, Uefa’s executive committee will meet and we should expect a further update from that.”

Ballymena United chairman John Taggart, meanwhile, has fired a warning shot to the Northern Ireland Football League, saying a final call on the league season must be made this month. 

NIFL has indicated that a decision on the remainder of the Irish League campaign would be taken before June 30, while Uefa are expecting an update next week.

The Sky Blues chief believes that any further delay is not an option. Taggart, who believes European funding should be fairly distributed to clubs throughout the league if the campaign is over, insists the time has come to make big calls.

NIFL has highlighted the “continued desire” of member clubs to conclude the season despite the Covid-19 crisis, but their hands are tied as the Government’s medical advisors will have to give clubs the green light for training to return. 

Taggart argued: “There’s a decision to be made by June 30 and I think that’s the time to call it. 

“No more delays, a decision needs to be taken. This season needs to be officially concluded so we can focus on next season. It’s important that all clubs come through this pandemic.

“My gut feeling is the season is over. I don’t see it returning. The Government has issued their five point recovery plan and we need to have a working environment in which everyone is safe.

“We’ve got to consider the views of the players’ families as well. Our game needs to be financially viable and the fans must feel safe enough to want to return. That won’t happen quickly. Grounds must be thoroughly cleaned. Money is driving the return of the Premier League and the testing costs are too much for us to consider.”

NIFL wanted to give the league season every chance to be concluded and the Irish FA’s draft document dlsclosed by the Belfast Telegraph yesterday explains how the association is hoping the Government will facilitate a quicker return than feared.

The IFA outlined plans to return to play after the Executive reaches stage three of its five-stage roadmap for easing the lockdown. The matches, following two weeks of team training, will be played behind closed doors with restrictions on personnel in attendance.

Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey has argued that the season cannot continue while Linfield manager David Healy warned that the authorities “cannot keep kicking this decision down the line. Now is the time to make the big call”.

Belfast Telegraph