Legendary manager David Jeffrey has made a passionate plea for more financial support from government to keep Irish League football moving forward.
The Ballymena United boss attended the launch of the new Danske Bank Premiership season in Belfast city centre on Wednesday night and expressed a regret that the game hasn’t been given the support and recognition it deserves.
Jeffrey guided Linfield to 31 trophies in his astonishing managerial career before joining the Sky Blues, where he also lifted the League Cup.
He has no time for anyone wishing to criticise the League but he believes it is suffering from a lack of political help.
“I can remember how Irish League football kept going during the darkest of days in this country and I don’t think it’s ever been given recognition of that by government or our NI Executive,” said Jeffrey, whose time in charge of Linfield lasted 17 years and three months.
“We can go much further in relation to facilities but there are only so many wealthy benefactors like Kenny Bruce at Larne or Ali Pour at Glentoran so we do need central government funding and when you look at what a club like H&W Welders have done with their home ground, if that can be replicated on a bigger scale in the Irish League we would be in a much healthier place.
“But every club is striving to be better and there’s a massive amount of talent in the League.
“There’s a strong link and bond between the clubs and the communities which is growing.
“We will continue to progress as long as we live within our means. Some clubs have more money than others but I don’t think we should bemoan that fact.
“We need to continue along the road we are on and I think the flexibility around the scheduling of fixtures and the emergence of full-time football is great.
“There will always be those who want to go to England or Scotland to watch football and you can’t reach them. I’ve no time for the naysayers who were never interested in our game anyway. What we are seeing is increased attendances and more families and young people coming to games.
“The standard is also going through the roof and our game is real — it means something to the players and fans. More young players are getting a move to the professional game across the water, Kofi Balmer is hopefully the next one, and that in turn can benefit the national team so Irish FA support is important as well.
“Look at Conor McMenamin getting his international call-up. He’s thrived in the Irish League and the bottom line is this is a better League than people recognise.
“And there are many more young men coming through who are capable of getting moves because the standard of the game and the coaching is getting better.”
Northern Ireland Football League CEO Gerard Lawlor echoed those sentiments.
“I do agree that a lack of investment is stopping the progress of the game,” he argued. “The Irish FA, who we work closely with, share our frustration over the lack of stadium funding as we want more families to come to games.
“We want more young people and women to enjoy our matchday experience and that will happen when we have improved facilities. That is a massive challenge. Hopefully, one day football will get a lot more than the £36million which was promised.
“Hopefully one of our teams will soon break into the group stages of European football which will put our game on a different footing, so we need to get behind one another and also not leave clubs behind.
“It’s important all the clubs can develop together and that isn’t always easy. There’s a good camaraderie between the clubs and we need to keep working together.”