The 2019-2020 Irish Premiership season will be called to a premature end tomorrow night unless there is a dramatic turnaround with NINE clubs set to vote against the NIFL Steering Group proposal to play two more league games.
This follows what was described as “a volatile” NIFL Premiership committee meeting on Tuesday, when the Steering Group was “heavily criticised” by several clubs.
The group expected the meeting to last one hour. It started at 6pm and they were booked in for another discussion with Championship sides at 7.30pm.
Instead, the explosive showdown with top-flight teams went on for THREE hours with members of the Steering Committee, formed to “explore options for concluding the current season”, battered from pillar to post by several clubs left angry, frustrated, disappointed and perplexed by how the process has been handled.
Three months after football here was brought to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Committee comprising Brian Adams (Ards chairman and NIFL board chairman), Gerard Lawlor (Cliftonville chairman and NIFL board vice-chairman), Jack Grundie (Linfield and NIFL Premiership Committee chairman), Trevor McCann (Ballyclare Comrades) and Jonathan Madill (Independent NIFL board member) offered up just TWO options to conclude the 2019-2020 campaign with clubs having until 5pm tonight to make their decision.
The Steering Committee strongly pushed a plan for clubs to play two more league games which would have taken every team to 33 matches, having played each other three times, five shy of the normal 38-game Premiership season.
Crusaders, Glentoran, Larne, Glenavon, Dungannon Swifts, Carrick Rangers, Ballymena United, Warrenpoint Town and Institute did NOT feel they could support that option.
In contrast, league leaders Linfield, second-placed Coleraine and fourth-placed Cliftonville were in favour of the idea. The Blues and Reds have representatives on the Steering Committee, whose only alternative was to curtail the season immediately and adopt a mathematical formula, designed and implemented by an independent panel, to determine final league positions.
The lack of choice went down like a lead balloon on the conference call. Yesterday, clubs were asking the NIFL board/Steering Group to come up with more options prior to tonight’s deadline.
After it was announced on Tuesday night that one Championship club, set to be Portadown, would be promoted, there was genuine sympathy amongst most top-flight sides for the plight of Premiership bottom club Institute, who face relegation no matter what option they choose.
As for the independent panel, to be appointed by the NIFL board, one source revealed: “We were told the panel would have to be people with no knowledge of football or the impact this would have on individual teams!”
No timescale was presented for when the panel would be assembled. Details from the Steering Committee relating to other issues such as what would happen if a player tested positive for Covid-19 were said to be “very limited”.
One bright spot was Glentoran offering to share their money from Uefa with other clubs if they won this year’s Irish Cup, which the IFA are determined to finish even if the league season comes to an end tonight.