Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) chiefs are stepping up their efforts to implement new financial fair play rules and the plans are being broadly welcomed.
NIFL had begun a review of the Salary Cost Protocol (SCP), but that process was paused while clubs considered the financial impact of Covid-19.
The Protocol was kicked into touch before the start of the 2021-22 season and it’s accepted that an updated model is required, allowing greater flexibility for clubs in relation to player salaries and income received.
First introduced in 2011, the Protocol aimed to improve the standard of financial management by introducing a cap on player salaries based on a percentage of allowable income against key creditors, over a two-year average.
At a time when there is increased spending in the league with respect to transfer fees and wages, a new model will hopefully prevent professional football clubs spending more than they earn in the pursuit of success.
Clubs have hit financial problems and had to fight for their survival in the past so it’s an issue which commands the most serious attention.
There are financial safeguards and checks related to club licencing, but NIFL have accepted they need “an updated financial framework for both the development and sustainability of our clubs and leagues.”
Clubs acknowledge its importance, though the devil lies in the detail. Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry said the financial viability of clubs was a pressing issue.
“The old protocols certainly needed updating,” he said. “We are talking about financial fair play and we need to agree on it. Regardless of what league you are in there are teams who have more than others, but we still need a model that prevents you from spending more than what you are bringing in on players.
“We need to have some form of financial controls and fair play has to be adhered to.
“The model that we used to have is outdated and it’s certainly something we need to look at.”
With Glentoran and Larne now backed by wealthy owners Ali Pour and Kenny Bruce, the clubs have determined they can afford to spend £100,000 on the signings of Shay McCartan and Lee Bonis.
McKendry added: “It’s great there is money in the league, clubs are benefiting from it, but it would be concerning if more players are brought in from the south or further afield on big transfer fees. You can’t blame the player for a transfer and the bar has been set by recent activity.
“Glentoran and Larne have European earnings and financial backers and if they have a sustainable model who can criticise them? Yes, prices have inflated, but we have also been raided for too long with respect to our young players going to clubs across the water. Clubs’ expectations will rise due to the bigger prices.”
Cliftonville legend Marty Quinn said earlier this month that the game’s big wages and offers for players cannot be justified.
“When you see players moving for over £100,000 and players getting up to £1,500 a week it’s hard to believe it’s the same game we were involved in,” he said. “It’s crazy money and it’s unjustifiable in my opinion. The revenue isn’t there through gate receipts to sustain that and you worry about the long-term future of the game.”
Glentoran manager Mick McDermott says he hopes the new financial fair play model keeps the league in a healthy place.
“I’m sure NIFL will come up with rules, like they did before,” he said. “Obviously circumstances have changed with the financial realities of each club and I’m confident there’s no club in the Irish league breaking Uefa fair play rules.
“That’s why we might need a NIFL protocol, but businesses should be allowed to invest when they can afford it. We want the league to be viable and we don’t want it to lose a few teams, but it’s in a strong position now.
“I’m sure NIFL will be working hard to ensure that it keeps going from strength to strength as a viable product. The Premiership is a really strong product. After Monday’s game I had messages from former colleagues working in England, Portugal, Australia and North America as well as other managers in our league who recognised that it came across really well on television.
“It was a really entertaining game of football and that’s a credit to everyone involved, including long before I came here two and a half years ago.
“Even in that short time I have seen an exponential leap in where the league is and it’s a credit to everyone involved.”
Crusaders treasurer Tommy Whiteside said the north Belfast club would not oppose a new financial model for clubs.
“We are not averse to it, but some clubs felt the last Protocol lacked teeth,” he said. “The whole issue about payments to players has divided opinion and you are relying on clubs to be honest.
“If the proposal is workable then we would support it.”
Glenavon chairman Adrian Teer says clubs simply must ‘live within their means.’
“People decry the large transfer fees, but at least they are staying within the game,” he argued.
“I’d like to think we are sensible and live within our means. Gary (Hamilton) works well with the maximum budget we can give him and while we work hard to increase that budget we need to live within our means and preserve our position in the Premiership which is becoming more difficult with the escalation of wages and transfer fees, some of them staggering for the Irish League.”