Belfast Telegraph

Irish League supporters split over potential season switch to summer football: Have your say in our poll

Irish League supporters are divided over a potential switch to summer football.
Irish League supporters are divided over a potential switch to summer football.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Irish League football could be set to undergo its biggest ever change, with the season set for a potential switch as early as 2021.

The Linfield chairman Roy McGivern and general manager Pat Fenlon have indicated their backing of the idea as the league strives to improve its performance in European competition and avoid losing out on a money-spinning Europa League place.

The Danske Bank Premiership is currently ranked 52nd out of 55 European leagues and could even lose one of its four European berths if there isn't a positive performance this summer.

The suggestion is that a season beginning in May and ending in February could have the players at full tilt by the time the qualifiers roll round in late June and July.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill has even held a meeting with clubs, outlining his belief that a switch to a more summer season would help Irish League clubs to make progress in European competition.

However, that is only one of a whole range of issues brought up by the potential switch in fixture lists.

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While the lives of players, manager and coaches will all be impacted, so too will those of the clubs' loyal supporters.

So what do they make of the proposals? There's a whole spectrum of reactions, from complete rejection of any change, a willingness to consider it and through to disagreements over which type of summer season should be favoured.

We spoke to some of those fans to see what they have to say. Have a look and scroll down to cast your vote below in our supporters' poll.

Graham Campbell (Linfield fan): In favour of a switch to match the League of Ireland season

I'm in favour of it because I think we need to try something. Moving to summer football means you're not competing with the Premier League or the Scottish Premiership as much.

I would have a few concerns about the model that is being talked about, finishing the season in February. The whole point of summer football is that you play in the better weather but with this model, your season is finishing in the worst months of the year. If you get postponements during the run-in then you're left with an extended season. And you'll be wrapping up warm for the Irish Cup final too.

I think the League of Ireland has probably got the best solution to it with their February to October season. Yes, that would lose our Boxing Day games but I've been supporting Linfield for 30 years and I've been watching the crowds dwindling and health and safety adding restrictions. Boxing Day isn't what it used to be. It's not the be all and end all. You might even find with the crowds you get the rest of the season, the overall attendances still go up even without the Boxing Day games.

Stephen Marshall (Linfield fan): In favour of the proposed May to February season

I'm not totally sold on it but if I was pushed, I'd say go for it. I think the current suggestion is a good one because we get the benefits of summer football and hold on to our Boxing Day games as well.

Irish League clubs are curerntly at a disadvantage when it comes to the European qualifiers. Often, we are six, seven or eight games behind the teams we come up against. They are fitter and sharper while we are basically using the games as pre-season for our domestic campaign.

There is potentially an opportunity to get more children to the games when they're off school and maybe not playing their own football. The League of Ireland has shown that attendances have generally risen since they moved to summer football.

We could also hope to get more matches on TV as, during the summer, there are no Premier League games on.

Those factors would all mean more money and then the quality can be improved. The circle then goes on. There could be green shoots for Irish League football.

Pat Fenlon played in the Irish League and now he's back here, he played and managed in the League of Ireland before and after they switched to summer football so if there's anybody who knows the pros and cons of it, it's him so I'll listen to what he says.

Leslie Addis (Ballymena United fan): Opposed to a change if it's just to improve European performances

Keep it the way it is, if the only reason to change is all the noise about the European money. Personally I would like to see European competitions go back to how it used to be, only the champions of each association (and holders) in the top tournament, cup winners (and holders) in a Cup Winners' Cup etc.

Summer football will be a nightmare for managers, coaches, players who have children, have wives in the education sector or who work in schools themselves. The May to February season, therefore with a late April pre-season means no suitable time for the above to take a holiday.

It's the same with the push for full time football. Are players with jobs at present plus their money from part-time football expected to or likely to take a drop in income to do what they are presently doing part-time? This could result in teams full of players on loan from around Europe who don’t give a stuff about the colours they wear?!

I love the local game, have tried to watch local games as often as I can for years, and to be honest it is far more honest and exciting (and no shortage of quality) than most of what overpaid, over-rated professionals serve up. Keep it the same.

Alan Holmes (Glentoran fan): Opposed to change based on other summer sports

There are a lot of pros and cons to the whole thing but from my point of view, I wouldn't like it at all. I'm a big cricket fan as well and there are a lot of Irish League supporters who are the same. I know a lot of other Glentoran fans who watch CS and a lot of Linfield fans who watch cricket as well. There are even players, like Glenavon's Andrew Mitchell who plays cricket for Waringstown during the summer.

If the football switches, there will be a clash throughout the cricket season. Are these people going to give up their summer sports to watch the football? On a blazing summer's day, there's nothing better than watching the cricket.

It's the same for bowls, golf, GAA and all other summer sports. There's a lot of competition and people are set in their routines.

Robert Emerson (Glenavon fan): It's a good proposal but more consideration is needed

The switch to summer time football in theory is a very good one but there is still a lot to take into consideration before going ahead with it.

Has any thought been given to the likely drop off in attendances during the July fortnight when a large percentage of the population usually take their summer holidays?

In theory it’s a very good suggestion due to the amount of unplayable games in the winter and the bad weather making a large percentage of pitches unplayable. Maybe a better solution to that problem would be the IFA investing some of the money it obtains from international football and allocating it to clubs for the sole purpose of maintaining pitches. Things like drainage, for example, could be improved or the money could be spent on better equipment such as pitch covers.

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Are you in favour of a change to the Irish League fixture list?

Posted by Belfast Telegraph Sport on Wednesday, May 22, 2019

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