Irish Premiership clubs remain in limbo as to when the 2020/2021 league season will begin, with Glenavon chairman Adrian Teer insisting that clarification on the structure of the new campaign is urgently required.
While next term's English Premier League will kick-off on September 12 and the Scottish Premiership has already begun, there has been speculation about a late September or early October start for the top division in Northern Ireland, though clubs have yet to hear concrete news from the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) about what the plans are moving forward.
Last week, NIFL announced fixture dates for the 2020 Danske Bank Women's Premiership season, starting on August 26, but with clubs in the Irish Premiership not wishing to play without fans and, crucially, no word on Institute's appeal to the Irish FA against their relegation on a points per game basis, the wait goes on for the men's game.
With Covid-19 restrictions in place, 500 spectators were allowed into Friday's Irish Cup final between Glentoran and Ballymena United at Windsor Park. Clubs are keen that NIFL reach agreement with the NI Executive over spectators for future league games. They also want to know if there will be the usual 38 Premiership fixtures because the longer the delay to the new season, the harder it will be to play the normal number of matches.
Teer says: "If we got a date for football starting up again, I am certain the clubs would ensure the necessary precautions are taken and necessary regulations are followed.
"I believe clubs are united that it would be nonsensical to play Irish League football behind closed doors without fans.
"The lifeblood of football is the fans and match days are key to clubs for income. That can't be ignored. The call on fans attending games will be made by the NI Executive and we need to be working with them on that.
"Clubs aren't just concerned with when the season will start. They are concerned about what format the league will be when it begins because that could have serious ramifications for finances."
Teer continued: “We are going ahead with contracts based on playing a 38 game league as normal. If we are told the league will only be 22 games, what are clubs going to do because they have contracts on the table that have to be honoured, so we need clarification urgently on what is happening.”
Suggestions have been made that games may have to kick off with 50% capacity of crowds and it is understood there is a willingness to do that.
NIFL would prefer to bring all the clubs together once they know what is happening with Institute’s case.
There has been no announcement from the IFA on the outcome of the north west club’s appeal against their relegation to the Championship.
Stute were bottom, three points behind Warrenpoint Town, when the campaign was curtailed seven games early due to the coronavirus pandemic. An independent company decided on a mathematical formula to bring the season to a conclusion after months of in-fighting between clubs and heavy criticism of the NIFL Board during an embarrassing period for the Irish League.
Should Institute lose their appeal, they may take their case to arbitration, which could delay things further.
There has been talk of the authorities doing a feasibility study around Irish League grounds to see if they are going to be Covid ready for a return to football.
Teer says: “If we got a date for football starting up again, I am certain the clubs would ensure the necessary precautions are taken and necessary regulations are followed.”
Meanwhile, Warrenpoint have signed defender Gavin Peers from Irish Cup winners Glentoran.
Peers is Barry Gray’s fourth addition of the close season break and comes on board boasting a wealth of experience having previously played with Sligo Rovers, St Patrick’s Athletic and Derry City.
He spent 11 seasons at Sligo before his spells at Pat’s and at the Brandywell.
The 34-year-old will play in the centre of defence, and Gray says: “Gavin brings much need experience and leadership, not to mention outstanding ability.
“I have been on record last season about how disappointing it’s been to see us concede so many goals.
“We really believe Gavin can help us substantially reduce this tally and look forward to working with him closely in the months ahead.
“This is exciting times at Milltown as we move forward and to attract this calibre of player is fantastic to see for everyone at Warrenpoint.”