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'Where does that money come from?': Irish League clubs may need help to survive coronavirus, warn chairmen

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The NI Football League Premiership Management Committee is meeting on Wednesday.

The NI Football League Premiership Management Committee is meeting on Wednesday.

The NI Football League Premiership Management Committee is meeting on Wednesday.

Surviving the coronavirus outbreak will become increasingly difficult for Irish League clubs the longer it goes on, two chairmen have warned.

Glenavon chief Adrian Teer said on Sunday evening that there is a feeling the Irish FA 'should be supporting (clubs') cash flows' with revenue streams decimated by the postponement of the season.

That followed calls from Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey for both the IFA and NIFL to take a 'pro-active' approach to assisting clubs.

Over the weekend, Dagenham managing director Steve Thompson admitted his fears that smaller clubs in England may be forced to fold and Teer said that nothing could be ruled out on this side of the Irish Sea either.

The IFA, when contacted by the Belfast Telegraph, confirmed only that it is monitoring the situation and will communicate with partners in due course.

The mandatory pause to the campaign is only due to last until Saturday, April 4 but that restart date is under constant review.

Few would be surprised to see football's break last much longer than the suggested three weeks and that, according to Banbridge Town chairman Dominic Downey, will only add to the difficulty for clubs at all levels of the football pyramid.

"We would find a way to get through because we always have done but it will stretch us, there's no doubt about that," he said. "The longer this goes on, the more difficult it will become.

"Is there a cut-off point at which stage we couldn't keep going? I couldn't say that but it will become more difficult.

"It's not just for us of course, every club will go through the same thing.

"We're used to playing football for eight or nine months a season and you use those to budget for the three months of the off-season but this is totally uncharted territory."

Teer was unwilling to suggest how long Glenavon could continue without much-needed - income or assistance from the governing bodies but said he is confident his club can see out the current season, in whatever guise it may take, even if it did require "having to borrow money or seek donations" such as that which the club recently received from an anonymous donor, as confirmed on Monday.

The Premiership Management Committee is due to meet on Wednesday evening and, while Teer suggested that the Irish FA should be invited to address the representatives from each of the 12 top tier clubs, it is understood NIFL currently has no plans to invite anybody from the IFA.

"Clubs will be expecting to hear what support the governing bodies may be able to give clubs and I think that's a reasonable expectation," Teer told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It's a struggle for all of us. We rely very heavily on the income we receive on match-days as a whole. It's not just the gate receipts but also the bar takings, the merchandise sold from the club shop and other avenues like that.

"When you lose all of those, obviously our forecasts are down and we have to try to balance the books.

"We will be looking for some guidance from NIFL and from the Irish FA."

The issue was rammed home on Monday afternoon when, across the border, Drogheda United took the decision to suspend payments to all first team and coaching staff.

"We need to act now so that the club is financially ready to continue once the League recommences," said chairman Conor Hoey.

"We do not have any budgetary issues within the club, but this is about being prudent and planning ahead."

Teer outlined the difficulties that a resumption of the current season could present in the Irish League.

"If there is no more football throughout March and April, which I firmly believe will be the case, and then the season resumes to finish in May, June or July, we can't be paying players twice for the same stretch of the season," he explained.

"We've got to have a cohesive approach to this. If we pay players in March and April, we can't then pay players to finish the season in later months. But we need guidance."

Payment of players' wages is one difficulty that Banbridge Town chairman Downey admits he does not have to battle.

However, it doesn't mean surviving the break in matches will be any easier for those in the third tier of the NI Football League.

"Our only source of income other than match-days is through hosting events in the social club," he said. "We have some of those booked in over the next few weeks but it wouldn't surprised me at all if they are cancelled.

"Then that leaves us with no income but with overheads still to be paid. Where does that money come from?"

On the pitch, NI Football League clubs have been given no instruction on training other than to follow advice from government and healthcare officials.

Many have opted to take this week off, with players instead training in isolation or in small groups, before reassessing next weekend.

Added complications could be close on the horizon, with the likes of Banbridge, Ards and plenty more relying on public leisure facilities for training.

The Irish League is, like the rest of society, in unknown waters.

And, as Teer points out, all clubs are 'in the same boat'.

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