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I’m glad the Irish League still regards football as a sport and not a financial institution smothered by greed

Liam Beckett


Money generated from European participation is so important for clubs like Crusaders

Money generated from European participation is so important for clubs like Crusaders

Stephen Hamilton/Inpho

Money generated from European participation is so important for clubs like Crusaders

I often get asked my views on the full-time model adopted by some Irish League clubs and if I feel any more will follow suit but, at this minute in time, I honestly can’t see it.

At present we have four full-time outfits — Linfield, Glentoran, Crusaders and Larne.

Getting the mathematics right is absolutely crucial and I was pleased to see that three of those clubs were competing in European competitions. For full-time sustainability purposes, Euro qualification provides a very welcome boost to the bank balance.

But with our quota, not every team is guaranteed to qualify for Europe and so the risk factor remains questionable.

Although football in general may well have abandoned many of its core principles over the years, we in the Irish League have, by and large, still managed to cling on to several, which thankfully includes still regarding football as a sport and not a financial institution smothered by greed.

I attribute much of that quality to many of our players who, contrary to the general trend, still play football for the fun of it with a few quid thrown in for their services, but still not endeavouring to screw their clubs for more than they can realistically afford to pay.

Of course we all love a few extra bob in our pocket, but at least it’s a comfort to know that the vast majority of Irish League players both acknowledge and appreciate just how tough it is for their clubs to make ends meet.

It was no different back in my day.

Although I usually took what I was offered, there was one occasion when I thought I’d be greedy and tried my hand at getting a little extra. It was in the mid-70s and I recall I was on £7 per week at Coleraine and we had just had a very good season, including European qualification which was virtually an annual occasion for the Bannsiders back then.

There were four of us travelling from the same wee town every week and together we decided we would chance our arm and hold out for a bigger signing-on fee. We felt if we all stuck together for long enough, we would have a much better chance of getting a few extra shillings.

Indeed, with the club requiring our contracts to be signed early for us to be registered to play in Europe, we were in a strong bargaining position, so the four of us made a pact to stick to our guns no matter what.

Coleraine had a pre-season friendly the following week but us contract rebels were told we would not be involved because we still hadn’t signed.

We decided we would go to the game as spectators together in the one car — just as we would usually travel to matches — but when we called at the house of one of our fellow non-conformers, he was nowhere to be found.

While we found it a bit strange, the remaining three of us headed to the game without him and took up a vantage point on top of what used to be a raised grass bank behind the goals at the railway road end of the ground.

To our utter amazement, as the two sides ran onto the pitch, there was our missing comrade leading out the team!

He had done a deal on his own with the club and re-signed earlier that day — so much for our unified pact.

We had a laugh afterwards and eventually we all re-signed on the dotted line. If the truth be told, hand on heart, we would have all signed for nothing anyhow because we all loved the club and the chairman Jack Doherty in particular, he was different class and he certainly put a bum in my trousers, that’s for sure. I will never forget him for that.

In fact, I can well remember playing in several Cup Finals for that particular Coleraine team and never once can I ever remember us asking for a win bonus — the win always meant more and we knew that when the money would be long gone, the winners’ medal would still be in our possession, and so it proved to be.

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