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Let’s start new Irish League season by clamping down on divers and freezing prices for dedicated fans

Liam Beckett


Seeing more yellow cards for football’s play-actors can help improve our game

Seeing more yellow cards for football’s play-actors can help improve our game

Lorcan Doherty

Seeing more yellow cards for football’s play-actors can help improve our game

The new season fixtures are out and every fan I meet is already counting the days until the action starts on Saturday, August 13.

Without any shadow of a doubt, the Irish League currently represents the best value-for-money football entertainment in the United Kingdom and the steady increase in attendance figures over the last few years is surely testament to that assertion.

However, despite our game enjoying a steady climb in the popularity charts, I suppose there’s still no harm in striving for perfection and having a wishlist for the season that lies ahead.

Personally — and I admit I’m probably in the minority here — I genuinely feel that the standard of refereeing is improving too. Of course there will be games when the ref has a stinker, but haven’t we all had bad days at some stage in our lifetime?

Credit where credit is due towards our match officials, but there is still room for improvement.

We do have a couple of referees who have got our game — and the conmen who try to cheat them — well and truly sussed.

I would now like to see the rest of our officials follow their example and crack down hard on the divers who infest our game and who are an increasing embarrassment to the vast majority of the solid, genuine players who entertain us week in, week out in the Irish League.

It was abundantly clear, particularly last season, that when the top referees ignored the drama queens who went to ground like they’d been poleaxed, they quickly bounced back to their feet and got on with the game as soon as they realised they’d been found out.

We badly need more of that quality from match officials and, believe me, we will soon see the conmen, divers and cheats who earn a living from our game properly exposed. It has to happen for the betterment of our game, together we can weed them out — and the sooner, the better.

Inconsistency on this issue among our officials really bugs supporters and managers alike, so the aim has got to be for more of our referees to grow a set and regain both control and respect from all concerned.

With attendance figures continually on the up, I would also like our clubs to freeze admission charges for the new season at least.

A welcome increase in numbers clearly love their weekly dose of Irish League football, but with inflation in danger of going through the roof and the country in the midst of a cost of living crisis, it would be a fitting gesture if club officials could recognise that hardship and keep prices fixed in what are extremely tough times for everyone — particularly the hard-pressed parents who also take their kids to games, putting a tremendous strain on an already stretched weekly budget. Clubs must recognise that and help where possible.

Another big plus factor last season was the coverage provided by the BBC.

As well as the customary extensive Saturday Sportsound radio show and its live commentaries, we now have more games televised and delivered either via the normal channels or streamed on the iPlayer.

This much broader approach has proved a tremendous success and I suppose I could be accused of being a tad greedy when I say that not only would I like to see that extended coverage maintained but I’d also like to see it increased where possible.

I loved catching up with Ian Lewers back in Northern Ireland

It was great to get a catch up and a round of gold with my good friend Ian Lewers at my beloved Galgorm Golf Club on Friday.

The Ireland, England and Great Britain international hockey star — who was home for a few days before heading back to London — plays off a 4 handicap and, believe me, if he hadn’t become a world class hockey player, he could well have made it as a pro on the golf tour.

He hits the ball an absolute mile and has all of the other shots as well, although his dad David and I still showed him that we could sink the odd long putt, too.

While Ian likes his football and avails of Sunday Life Sport to keep an eye on how the Irish League is panning out, it was hockey that this multi-talented and humble lad chose and his career highs include being a double Olympian — 2012 in London and Rio in 2016 — plus he is a Commonwealth Games bronze medallist.

He is another outstanding sportspeople who have flown the flag for Northern Ireland across the world and he still loves to get home here as often as possible. He loves this place and never forgot his roots.

Great to see Niall Horan extend World Invitational friendship

Music star Niall Horan has once again confirmed his attendance at the annual ISPS Handa World Invitational Pro-Am golf tournament at Galgorm Castle Golf Club on August 10.

This event brings together some of the best players in men’s and women’s golf.

Joining Leona Maguire — Ireland’s first ever winner on the LPGA tour — in the women’s competition will be our own Stephanie Meadow, who won the 2019 edition of the competition.

In the men’s game, DP World Tour winners Guido Migliozzi and Ewen Ferguson are set to tee up alongside Daniel Gavins, who will be defending the title he won in fine fashion last year after carding a seven under par final round 65.

Without doubt we are in for a summer of top-class sport on offer —lots to choose from and, in many ways, we will be spoilt for choice.

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