Clubs endorse new Northern Ireland Football League proposals

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The Northern Ireland Football League achieved a majority swing in favour of their radical new proposals, representing an “important night” for the local game on Wednesday.

NIFL chairman Adrian Teer applauded the 32 clubs who “voted responsibly”.

“It was maybe a surprising endorsement, but a very welcome one.

“We thought it would be a ‘yes’, but we certainly were not over-confident that it would be yes by a sizeable margin. Had it not been, you wonder if it’s worth taking the thing forward if only four or five votes carry it.

“If certain aspects don’t work then we’ll look at it again. Fundamentally, it’s about common sense.

“If that vote had have gone against us, we would find it very difficult to move forward, and when you’re meeting with government departments and sponsors for instance, you have to demonstrate unity.”

The main proposals include a Europa League play-off between the third and seventh-placed clubs in the Premiership, mandatory Thursday and Friday night games, licenses for Championship 1 clubs and three divisions of 12, meaning six fewer clubs within three years.

Teer’s opening address was one final appeal to those clubs who still could have been persuaded, asking those to consider whether local football is a ‘credible sport or a divided sport”.

He added: “This probably showed the clubs had studied the proposals in some depth and have looked at the bigger picture. Some may think they’re voting that way to the detriment of their own club.”

NIFL managing director, Andy Johnston, was hugely encouraged by the outcome.

“Had tonight’s vote not had went well the board would have had to reconsider which direction it took,” Johnston said.

“These are off the back of a fairly extensive consultation process with UEFA, yet thankfully we don’t have to.

“It is confidence-building. The fact they have voted responsibly for the development of the league is probably the most pleasing aspect of it. It’s also pleasing that Premiership clubs have voted for a reduction in top division prize money, to enable us to support the Championship.”

When asked why five clubs voted against and why a further three did not attend, Johnston’s expression read that it would be impossible to please everyone.

He added: “I’m not sure why. Maybe we don’t know how one or two of them would have voted. We do have to think about the six clubs which could be relegated and we have to make sure they are supported.

“If they go to regional intermediate leagues we hope they can come back up as stronger clubs again.

“These changes are, we think, quite significant especially in terms of restructuring, improving competition and play-offs and so forth, but there’s an understanding of how we have to start somewhere.

“It’s important we get the structure of the league right and there will be further consultation in coming days. It’s the start of a new approach.”

Billy Erwin, chair of Wakehurst, was among the five club representatives registering opposition. “In principle I agree with it, and I believe it is probably the right way forward but it leaves Wakehurst in a very vulnerable position.

“I expected the whole of Championship 2 to vote against this. The ‘no’ vote was a disappointment. In the talks leading up to this meeting, the majority of Championship 2 clubs said they were voting against it, in the last week or so they’ve changed their minds.”