Gerard Lawlor: It's a no-brainer to engage with fans on future of the Irish League

​NIFL CEO Gerard Lawlor feels it’s a “no-brainer” to engage with fans as the Irish League attempts to take another step into the professional era.
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​As part of their new five-year strategy titled ‘A bold and brighter future for professional football’, NIFL have outlined their intention to give supporters a voice in the running of the league, which includes implementing a fans’ charter and facilitating a fans’ forum.

They are also looking to increase total attendances at Irish League games by 40% and have stated the ambition to engage with younger audiences.

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Lawlor believes supporters are the lifeblood of the sport and wants them to have an input on decisions that are made within the league.

NIFL CEO, Gerard Lawlor, pictured at the launch of the new NIFL Strategy. PIC: Press Eye / Phil MagowanNIFL CEO, Gerard Lawlor, pictured at the launch of the new NIFL Strategy. PIC: Press Eye / Phil Magowan
NIFL CEO, Gerard Lawlor, pictured at the launch of the new NIFL Strategy. PIC: Press Eye / Phil Magowan

"They are the people we want to keep and grow, so why wouldn't we speak to them?” he said. “In a lot of cases they are speaking to their clubs about issues and there are a lot of opinions on social media constantly about what they do and don't like, so let's engage with the actual people we want to grow and get more of.

"It's almost a no-brainer.

"Does it have risks? Everything in life has risks.

"I'm hoping that we can go out to clubs and get representatives.

"Where do the best Irish League discussions take place? I come from the supporters buses' and my background as a 20-year-old is going to an Irish League ground where it's loved, has passion and so much of that is bred in those supporters buses, but we're not engaging with them.

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"Let's go out and have discussions on what they want more of, less of and how we marry that with what the clubs want.

"Without the fans we don't have anything and it's them we want more of."

Lawlor is also hoping that it won’t just be full-time professional teams and players in the future, but officials too.

Much controversy has surrounded refereeing decisions at the start of the new Premiership season with many managers unhappy at calls that have negatively impacted their respective teams.

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While NIFL aren’t in control of official appointments, Lawlor wants to make the whole product more professional.

"Anything involved in Irish League has an involvement for us,” he added. “We don't control referees but I've had lots of engagement with Mike Riley (IFA Head of Refereeing) since he came in.

"He knows my concerns and opinions.

"I've been accused of both loving and hating referees - I like to call things as I see them.

"We all want better referees.

"Referees will make mistakes but abusing them isn't going to make them any better.

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"As the game moves more professional, the one conversation we need to have with the Irish FA is are our referees going to follow?

"Are they going to support referees, can we develop referees?

"If we have a full-time professional league, I would hope in a number of years when that's achieved that we would have a group of full-time professional referees."

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