Irish League legend Ronnie McFall and Linfield general manager Pat Fenlon have added their voices to calls for the Irish League season to be brought to an end.
And even though he departed Portadown on a sour note in 2016, McFall wants to see his home town club and another Championship side promoted to a new 14-team Premiership.
McFall was set to leave Portadown at the end of the season in 2016 but he decided to quit following a shock Irish Cup loss to Lurgan Celtic.
His near 30-year reign at Portadown made him one of the longest-serving managers in European club football and with four league title wins and numerous cups to his credit, his opinions still carry weight.
A steering group set up by the Northern Ireland Football League is assessing viable options for concluding the season, with a recommended decision date of June 30. The Irish FA has granted NIFL an extension of the current season until July 31 but hopes of a summer restart have faded and the Belfast Telegraph has learned that one Premiership club has told players to scale down their individual training during the Covid-19 crisis.
No matter what way the penny drops, not everyone will be happy. Institute will feel they could have escaped relegation.
Clubs have no desire to play matches without supporters and that means the game may not return for a few months.
"My view is they should finish the season now and prepare for the start of next season," said McFall. "I don't see the game returning until September or October. That's the earliest I see with supporters being allowed back in and now there's an argument for bringing two teams up from the Championship, including Portadown, to create a 14-team Premiership."
Although there has been much discussion over whether this campaign can be concluded, it’s clear that next season cannot kick off until social distancing rules are scrapped and fans are allowed to return to Irish League grounds.
Football is returning in other countries but it’s doing so behind closed doors and it could be a long time before supporters are allowed to return to stadiums in significant numbers.
Former Blues hero Fenlon added: “Government will decide when football starts everywhere. It’s difficult, but kicking it down the road until 30 June is prolonging the agony for everybody.
“Do you call the league as it is and declare the league positions as they are? People will say ‘it’s easy for you to say, sitting top of the league’ but I don’t see many alternatives.”
McFall, who received an MBE from Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2008, feels it’s time the football authorities made some tough calls.
“I can’t see Irish League games taking place behind closed doors,” he added.
“Financially, it’s a non starter. The players are furloughed and clubs will have to pay them once they return.
“Unfortunately, we are a long way from fans attending games. Come back too quickly and a surge of the virus could leave us back at square one.
“We aren’t going to have testing in the Irish League so the season needs to finish.
“Players haven’t trained properly in three months so they will need another pre-season to be game ready.”
McFall steered the Ports to four league titles and he also led Glentoran to league and cup success, including a title winning campaign in 1980-81 when The Oval outfit were undefeated.
“I think if they stopped the season now the top three teams should go into Europe and there could be an argument to share European money among the seven clubs who can still qualify,” he continued.
“If clubs play in Europe and get through a round then they should keep that extra revenue.
“There’s also an argument for bringing two teams up from the Championship (Portadown are top) to create a 14-team Premiership.
“No matter what way the penny drops, not everyone will be happy. Institute will feel they could have escaped relegation.
“In the south they used to play each other three times a season and it’s something we could look at for one season until normality returns.
“It’s a difficult situation because you are talking about the future of clubs and they are all struggling financially.
“We’ve had experience of an Irish Cup Final not being played before and it’s a real shame that occasion has been taken away from the players.
“With respect to the title, you have to respect the league table. Coleraine had an outstanding season and now the challenge for them will be regaining that momentum.
“The authorities have to do something and Linfield are sitting four points clear at the top of the table so how can you give it to anyone else?
“I’m sure David Healy and his players would want to finish the season but we are living through strange times.”
Linfield chief Fenlon agrees that behind closed doors games isn’t an option and he warned against further delay.
“This is a difficult situation for everybody,” he told the RTÉ Soccer Podcast.
“I think leaving it to 30 June is fobbing it off and putting it back.
“I don’t see a scenario where Irish League clubs can play behind closed doors.
“In relation to testing and everything else, the cost would be too big.
“I think the decision is going to have to be made.
“Playing in empty stadiums with smaller crowds, that’s all been discussed and it’s all up in the air. It really reverts back to what government says.”