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Linfield and Crusaders reject NIFL proposal to introduce summer football


NIFL response: Linfield chairman Roy McGivern

NIFL response: Linfield chairman Roy McGivern

NIFL response: Linfield chairman Roy McGivern

Linfield and Crusaders have rejected the Northern Ireland Football League's first attempt to introduce summer football in the Danske Bank Premiership.

The Belfast Telegraph understands NIFL have tabled a first formal proposal for seasonal change to clubs but rather than suggesting a May to February model, they have sought agreement for a league beginning in the first week of July and ending in late March, with the Irish Cup final scheduled for the first weekend of April.

Clubs were asked to back the proposal - which would effectively bring the season forward by five weeks - or stick with the current programme.

There appeared to be support among the clubs for a May to February model - favoured by Crusaders - but NIFL have tabled this suggestion, clearly feeling that it has a better chance of success.

Any change would need a 75% majority vote in favour - the backing of eight of the 12 Danske Bank Premiership clubs - to proceed. NIFL have been awaiting responses from clubs but the Belfast Telegraph understands Linfield and Crusaders are opposed to it.

Blues chairman Roy McGivern said: "We have received a proposal from NIFL, the club has considered it and provided a response."

Crues treasurer Tommy Whiteside said: "We feel clubs need to have six or seven games under their belts before they play European football."

Whiteside added: "The preliminary round European games this year are from June 23-26. We favour a May to February model and have done so for three years."

There appears to be a feeling at Linfield that the early league games in July would clash with European qualifying matches and leave the club with a backlog of fixtures.

One Linfield source stated: "It's a five-week difference to the league, which doesn't make sense. It's hard to see the clubs with European ambitions supporting it as the qualifying dates clash with the first league games.

"We would prefer some certainty around it, the club would support change but it would need to be proper change, not just tinkering with the edges."

Some clubs who haven't competed in European football may be reluctant to embrace any change and one or two might even favour a more radical switch to the League of Ireland dates, with their season running from February to October.

NIFL's proposal for a July start date is a surprise given the emergence of the May to February suggestion, but it now appears certain that the discussions and debate will rumble on even longer.

Linfield are open to change, particularly if it assists clubs with their European preparations, and it's thought they would be more receptive to a season starting in May or early June.

A campaign kicking off in early June and finishing in March may be possible but what's certain is that NIFL still face a formidable task finding the formula that will gain sufficient support.

If this July to the end of March proposal is rejected by clubs then a further tweaking of the dates may be required.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill is a strong believer in a switch, but the 12 Premiership clubs must determine the game's future.

The loss of a Europa League place this season has increased calls for more competitive football in the summer to aid our clubs on the continent.

The riches on offer for an Irish League club are mouthwatering. The Blues would have banked millions had they progressed past Azerbaijan's Qarabag and reached the Europa League group stages. For clubs who make it to the group stages, they bank £2.69m, with another £525,000 for every win and £175,000 for a draw.

Linfield are set to launch their five-year strategy and full-time football will be a large feature of it, though Healy has in the past cautioned against a summer switch being a magic pill.

"Summer football won't guarantee Irish League clubs a place in the group stages of the Champions League or Europa League," said Healy during his club's remarkable European run.

"Whether we move the season to the summer or go full-time or not, it still helps to be lucky in Europe in terms of the draw. But if it is going to give us a percentage improvement in players when they face opponents midway through their season then a change could be beneficial."

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