NIFL Managers call for change

THE 12 managers in the Championship have joined together to call on the NIFL to immediately re-grade clubs playing in the Championship.

The call comes after new lockdown regulations have had a knock on effect on local football.

For instance, the NIFL Championship was due to kick off on Saturday (November 28), with Ballyclare Comrades set to entertain Knockbreda at Dixon Park.

However, the Executive have announced that just ‘elite’ sport is allowed – and for local football, this just means the Danske Bank Premiership.

Yet the Championship is now classed as ‘Senior’.

No longer are the likes of Ballyclare Comrades or Dundela able to enter the Steel and Sons Cup etc, yet they are not ‘senior’ or ‘elite’ as far as the regulations are concerned?

Ballyclare, remember, had played nine pre season friendlies, but only had one competitive match, a 2-0 County Antrim Shield defeat away to Larne on October 10, before the plug was pulled.

A statement reads: “Our inability to start our season is directly linked to the elite status issue.

“As a group of managers, we are asking NIFL to live up to their stated aim and to support the re-grading of the NIFL Championship to elite status, with immediate effect and allow players, coaches, members and fans of all our clubs to have a little solace in this extremely testing and unique time.

“Allow our clubs to be diligent and support our local communities by bringing some normality and balance in a time of great stress and discomfort to us all.”

That comes just one day after the current NI Executive restrictions are due to be lifted.

“There are over 50 players on professional contracts operating in the NIFL Championship and 12 coaches with UEFA Pro-Licenses (or working towards this qualification),” it continued.

“There are also quite a number of A and B licensed coaches as well as qualified physiotherapists and other support staff.

“The NIFL Championship is classified as 'senior' by the NIFL and a 'professional' league by the Irish FA.

“This is exactly the same definition as the NIFL Premiership.”

Championship sides, though, will be playing over the Christmas Holiday Period, if they get started, which won’t be the case for the Northern Amateur or Ballymena Saturday Morning Leagues.

The Northern Amateur League, who have yet to get their season under way, will also face another delay, with the close down until December 11, forbidding any competitive matches and restricting the numbers training in a group.

An appeal concerning the premature end to the previous campaign, had already delayed things for the Amateur League, but there were hopes to kick off on November 14 and then November 21, but then of course there was the news that the circuit break would be extended by another week.

This knocked the start date back to November 28, where locally, Crumlin United were due to entertain Immaculata FC, before travelling to Derriaghy Cricket Club the following Saturday.

However, the decision that Northern Ireland will enter a new two week lockdown from Friday, November 27, means that the earliest possible start could be December 12, the day after lockdown.

However, it’s unlikely that teams will be fit and ready to start, with clubs only allowed to participate in non-contact, non-football outdoor training for up to 15 people.

Giving the clubs two weeks for training, would take us to Boxing Day, which is really a non starter.

So realistically, the League could be aiming for the first Saturday in January.

Almost traditionally, some clubs face a two or three games per week backlog once the clear nights come in – and that’s for a league starting in August.

However, with each Division split into two sections, there will be less league fixtures to fulfil.

Also there won’t be the early rounds of the Irish Cup to negotiate, as this year, the Cup is limited to 32 teams.

And for junior sides, the Junior Shield has been scrapped this season.

Meanwhile, the Firmus Energy Ballymena Saturday Morning League have settled on a start date of Saturday, January 2, allowing clubs time for training.

Unlike their Amateur League counterparts, the Saturday Morning League teams had already commenced their campaign, until the plug was pulled in October.

With the Junior Shield cancelled, it frees up an additional eight Saturdays in 2021 – which will be more, if the IFA make a similar decision to scrap the Junior Cup.

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