Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Only In Northern Ireland Part 94

The new-fangled JJB Sports Premiership was supposed to signal the dawn of a new era for Irish League football. Finally, we got a decent sponsorship package, backing from the IFA, a marketing strategy (which apparently features star players from each team in the IL on billboards not far from the grounds, and adverts on national radio, respect) and a bumper television deal with Sky Sports.

What a pity the same old clowns pervade the IL on the ground. We're now supposedly two matchdays into the new season, and the league table looks like this:

1 Crusaders 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 1

2 Institute 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
3 Ballymena 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

4 Bangor 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
5 Cliftonville 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
6 Coleraine 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
7 Dungannon Swifts 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
8 Glenavon 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
9 Glentoran 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
10 Linfield 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
11 Lisburn Distillery 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
12 Newry 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

The reasons?

Matchday 1: the referees, in line with their Scottish counterparts, threaten to withdraw their services over pay, the absence of linesmen in the Championship, and recognition. Bear in mind this row has been rumbling on for years. Unlike Scotland, the IFA can't solve the dispute satisfactorily before the deadline, and as such, no IL games take place on the first weekend of the new-spangled Premiership season. JJB must be delighted with entering into partnership with such an organised, professional outfit.

Matchday 2: A torrential downpour (a month's rainfall in half a day) strikes Northern Ireland. The streets are already swimming before the match. The pitch is already covered in huge puddles BEFORE the match:

Now while I sympathise with IL referees wanting more money (they were getting paid 60 pounds per match, had to pay for their own uniforms despite them being sponsored, and when you consider the travelling they have to do, it's peanuts) but, when they make decisions like this, they really do themselves no favours whatsoever.

Alan Black is a particularly dislikeable individual. I have no idea whatsoever why he let this match go ahead, the pictures above show the pitch was unplayable and the game should never have started; maybe he wanted to get the ball rolling after he and his colleagues halted proceedings the week before; maybe he's just incredibly incompetent.

In either case, the losers are the prestige of the new league as a whole, and the common fan. Linfield FC compounded the problem on Saturday for not having any provision in place for refunding or recompensing fans after the game was abandoned. So there is a big dilemma about what to do for fans for the replay: charge the same again, thus pissing off hundreds who already paid 10 quid into a game only to see a mere half hour of a joke game, or let everyone in for free, thus creating the potential for hundreds of hangers-on and dickheads to cause problems and let the club down. Maybe a compromise is the best: free in for kids, half-price for adults.

In any case, the club are going to have to have a plan in place for any such future occurrences: a huge pile of Linfield-branded vouchers, with no specific date or opponent, should suffice.

All in all, billboards aside, it's not been a great couple of weeks for a would-be new professional era of Irish League football. A lot of work to be done.

UPDATE: Finally the MC have shown some common sense, and rewarded true fans by allowing free entry for all to Saturday's home game with Newry, getting the issue out of the way immediately as well.

It has been a long time since a game has been abandoned at Windsor Park and who could have predicted such an outcome in August, of all months.

The last game we can remember being abandoned was a famous game against Glentoran in the snow.

After Saturday's game and on the phone today, Windsor Park officials and staff have received several requests enquiring what the club proposed to do to reimburse supporters who through the "unprecedented acts of nature" did not get to enjoy a full 90 minutes of football on Saturday.

The issue has been debated fully at tonight's scheduled meeting of the Management Committee and the following has been agreed to reimburse supporters who may have been inconvenienced by Saturday's unfortunate weather and subsequent postponing of the opening JJB Sports Premiership game.

Linfield Football Club will grant free admission to ALL spectators to this Saturday's home game against Newry City.

Members and season ticket holders will have an extra match added centrally to their ticket allocation to ensure they are not disadvantaged in any way.

This offer will apply to ALL supporters home or away, whether they were inconvenienced on Saturday or not.

Linfield FC would point out that it would be virtually impossible to ascertain who was and who was not in attendance at Saturday's game and the club hopes that supporters understand and accept this gesture as a suitable way of reimbursing those supporters who were ( through no fault of this club ) inconvenienced by the unforseen postponement of this fixture.

Due to a heavy fixture load, it could be some time before the Cliftonville game could be rearranged and Linfield FC wants the issue of refunds cleared up as soon as possible, hence the decision to grant free admission to this week's game.

Linfield are working closely with Cliftonville regarding their supporters who were inconvenienced and when a decision has been reached, they will announce it to their supporters.

Well done MC (words you don't read on here very often!)

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