Belfast Telegraph

Linfield set for Sunday football if they can land £4m Europa League prize

 

Roy McGivern
Roy McGivern

By Graham Luney

Linfield will consider scrapping the club's rule which says they cannot play home games on a Sunday - if they hit the Euro jackpot.

The Blues are one tie away from making the Europa League group stages for the first time and as those games will be on Thursdays, the club concede they must look at Sunday football.

David Healy's side face a two-legged battle with Azerbaijan champions Qarabag with the first showdown at Windsor Park on Thursday night.

Linfield have already netted just under £1.4m from a European campaign which has seen them win back-to-back fixtures for the first time since 1966 and their prize money will hit the £4m mark if they can qualify for the group stages.

But the remarkable run, which has included victories over HB Torshavn of the Faroe Islands and Montenegro champions Sutjeska Niksic, will have a knock-on effect on their domestic programme.

Should the club make the group stages, Linfield members will be asked to vote to change or remove the rule that states the club are not allowed to play at home on a Sunday.

For several decades, no Sunday football was allowed in Northern Ireland for religious reasons but in November 2007, the Irish FA voted to scrap the ban and it was lifted on June 1, 2008.

Many Northern Ireland games have gone ahead on a Sunday - both at Windsor Park and away from home - but there is little appetite for it within the Irish League since Glentoran played Bangor at The Oval on Sunday, September 7, 2008.

Linfield may now be forced to change their rules, with chairman Roy McGivern admitting: "To reach the group stages would be huge for the club and many things need to be taken into consideration.

"We will have extra games and that will have an impact in terms of scheduling our league matches.

"We can't play home games at Windsor Park on a Sunday because of a club rule. Will we have to change that? Probably, but our members will decide that.

"If you're playing in Europe on a Thursday night you can't play league games on a Saturday, that's totally out. The obvious thing to do is play on a Sunday. It's not something we would normally be in favour of but in exceptional circumstances we have to look at that and it would involve changing a club rule."

McGivern added: “That will be done by club members, not by the board. I think Sunday is the best option if we are playing weekend football.

“If we get into the group stages we would consider playing our league games on a Sunday at Windsor, subject to members’ approval. Linfield can play away on a Sunday but there must be a rule change for a home fixture.

“We will be a few games behind other sides and that’s the price for being successful in Europe. The whole image of the club will be lifted and there’s obvious financial benefits.”

Northern Ireland fans are now familiar with Sunday fixtures at Windsor since the first one on March 29, 2015 when Finland were defeated 2-1 in a Euro 2016 qualifier. The last international game at Windsor on a Sunday was on March 24 this year when Michael O’Neill’s men beat Belarus 2-1 in a Euro 2020 qualifier.

But if Linfield opt to change their Sunday rule then it will represent a historic move by the club. Although it will be a decision made with reluctance, it will make footballing sense as it will give the Blues an extra day’s recovery from a tough European clash.

Healy made five changes to the team for Saturday’s league game with Coleraine but his side were beaten 4-2 and opposition boss Oran Kearney argued the game shouldn’t have gone ahead due to the Blues’ European commitments.

The league champions, however, are ready to raise their game against Qarabag.

“You always have to dream in football, anything can happen but we are also realistic in that we are facing a very good team in Qarabag who beat Dundalk this year,” said McGivern.

“They have experience of group stages and are a higher ranking team so they should beat us but if we can get a result in the home leg then it will give us belief. When you look at other teams that could be in the group stages it would be an incredible achievement for the club.

“I don’t pay much attention to the finances, they look after themselves. For me, it’s about doing the team and Irish League proud. We gave the team the best possible preparation we could for the European games including a warm weather training camp against good opposition.

“We’d like to be full-time in the next few years and while we are probably over-performing in Europe at the moment it certainly whets the appetite for more success. It would be nice to have a full-time team and build on this success.”

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