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It's time to end the Irish League season now, says Larne owner Kenny Bruce

 

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Call it: Larne owner Kenny Bruce wants the season to end

Call it: Larne owner Kenny Bruce wants the season to end

Linfield and Coleraine have been battling it out at the top of the league

Linfield and Coleraine have been battling it out at the top of the league

�INPHO/Matt Mackey

Larne’s David McDaid in action

Larne’s David McDaid in action

�INPHO/Brain Little

Call it: Larne owner Kenny Bruce wants the season to end

Larne owner Kenny Bruce has declared that the 2019-2020 Irish League season should end now, insisting that the safety of people in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic far outweighs any desire for sport to return.

 

Since football here was brought to a halt at the start of March, the Irish FA, Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) and clubs have explored potential options in relation to restarting the campaign which at the moment is officially suspended until May 31.

Bruce has become the first influential figure in Irish League football to call for a conclusion to the season. His impassioned comments will strike a chord with many.

Since taking control of Larne in 2017, the Purplebricks founder has invested millions of pounds into the Inver Park outfit which in turn has helped the domestic game across the board.

Prior to Covid-19 stopping football, Larne were on a six-match winning run in the league and making a late dash to qualify for Europe, one of Bruce's dreams for his hometown club, but he states there are much bigger and more important events to consider.

In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the Larne owner says it is not safe to play football at this time and that the football authorities and clubs here should focus on making stadiums safe for players, staff and fans in time for a September or October start next season.

Bruce adds that serious discussions need to take place between those involved in the Irish Premiership about whether champions are crowned for this term, pointing out there ought to be a "fair and balanced" apportioning of European money between clubs.

"The last thing on people's minds should be rushing back into sport," he said.

"With the impact of Covid-19 and the lives lost across the world, there are much more important things to consider like having testing, tracing and tracking available and making sure we ease out of this lockdown and manage it properly rather than rush it.

"From my point of view, safety should come first. There is no question about it. I wouldn't want to risk any of our players or our staff or any of their families having the chance of contracting Covid-19. Avoiding that at all costs is essential."

Bruce believes social distancing will be around for some time and that the facilities are not available at Irish League grounds to accommodate it, adding that no one should be asked to take any risks.

"The idea of the Irish League lads going into work where you are unable to have social distancing with this situation still lingering is unacceptable," stated Bruce.

"My view is that the season should be concluded now. I don't think it would be sensible or safe to bring it back.

"I would much rather let football breathe. Let the season be voided, apportion the European money in a way that is balanced and fair for every team in the Irish Premiership, for those who can qualify and even for those who can't qualify. I think there should be some money shared to help them through this hardship.

"We should then focus primarily on getting our clubs in shape from an infrastructure point of view to allow it to be as safe as it possibly can be for our players and staff to return to work.

"For Northern Irish football clubs, we probably need six to eight weeks to put in the right hand sanitisers and the right facilities for social distancing by moving seats and to be able to try and bring the game back when it is available for spectators, which for me would be in September or October of this year.

"So safety first, void the season, share the European money and give us an opportunity to allow us to get our stadiums fit for our staff and players to return with all of the proper procedures and sanitisers, the signage and markings for two metres and everything else in place.

"Let's get that organised and then let's try and see how the country gets out of this pandemic between now and August and if by the end of August where the country has been able to keep it under control and test, track and trace and there is confidence and no nervousness around our players and staff, then I think it would be the right time to commence season 2020-2021.

"The idea of prolonging the agony and building up this pressure to say that football should be brought back and should be brought back quickly adds to the pressure currently.

"We as a sport should say we are going to extinguish that pressure and say our season has been concluded and give the government the time to get this absolutely right because we feel easing out of this lockdown is far more important than playing sport and try and make sure that we at least don't have a second wave and can have a season starting at some time this year that will be concluded without interruption."

Linfield lead this season's title race with Coleraine four points adrift.

Asked if he thinks a title should be awarded, Bruce said: "Clubs and the football authorities need to talk to discuss this issue properly. It should not simply be imposed by the IFA or NIFL that this is what we are doing.

"If it is going to be around sporting integrity and if it is important they feel they need to award the trophy then there should be a discussion with two or three proposals.

"I think the best team in the league, if that is the case, should be awarded the trophy. Maybe the title should go to the team with the best average points per game or whatever it may be.

"In terms of Europe, my own personal feeling is that Larne could still qualify if the season was to start again, though I don't believe any European qualifying games will be played because I don't think we will be able to travel around Europe in June or July.

"I am not sure any of the bottom leagues in Europe will actually be able to participate this year so I think the European money should be shared. Again, this is something that should be seriously discussed by all the parties involved."

Belfast Telegraph