Irish League ground switch is ‘Sunday League football’ for boss Matthew Tipton

Portadown manager Matthew Tipton has branded the idea of switching matchday venues as ‘Sunday League football’ and a decision that devalues both the ‘integrity and professionalism’ of the Irish League.

By Patrick Van Dort
Wednesday, 24th February 2021, 7:15 pm

The Ports are preparing for a Shamrock Park test this weekend against Ballymena United having had games postponed due to weather conditions twice inside four days.

The home fixtures against Dungannon Swifts and Larne, respectively last Saturday and Tuesday, both suffered due to heavy rainfall - but Tipton immediately ruled out any prospect of changing grounds.

“There is some talk that in a season without fans and relegation then it’s okay to turn around a few hours before kick-off and decide to change the venues,” said Tipton. “For me, that’s turning our top division into Sunday League football...it’s an amateur mindset for what is supposed to be considered the highest level.

Portadown manager Matthew Tipton. Pic by Pacemaker.

“We have been granted elite status by the NI Executive at a time the majority of live sport has been put on hold due to coronavirus, so I believe that comes with an obligation to protect the integrity of our situation and not treat it like something small time just to tick off fixtures.

“No-one is more frustrated than a manager or player when a game gets called off but my responsibility is to protect my squad and the image of the club and I do not see how suddenly picking up and moving everything to another ground a few hours or so before kick-off is the best way forward.

“Aside from the logistical headaches such as mass travel and kits, it is disruptive to preparations to ask players to turn around and head to another ground.

“Volunteers have put in so much time and effort to keep our game going and you only have to look back recently when we had people spending hours clearing snow off our pitch to get a Portadown game on.

“So I think it is disrespectful to say we can treat the Danske Bank Premiership like a standard where it’s fine to uproot at such short notice.

“If it comes down to simply reversing fixtures and a decision is made the night before then I’m open to contacting my players and adjusting our preparations in the right way...but not a few hours beforehand when people might already be at the ground or have made travel plans around a certain venue.”

Tipton singled out the two latest Ports fixtures as examples of potential problems associated with venue changes.

“On Saturday around noon when it was suggested we could move to Dungannon I had every reason to believe our pitch at Shamrock Park would be in a position for football,” said Tipton. “That was based on the morning pitch inspection, weather reports and conversations with our groundsman...everything I’d been told pointed to an afternoon pitch inspection scheduled for 1.15pm giving us the green light.

“I am still convinced it should have gone ahead - but was certainly not going to agree to moving to the opposition’s ground under those circumstances.

“Then, on Tuesday, a change when we are scheduled to face Larne twice at home would certainly not help the integrity of our league.

“Imagine if a matchday switch is agreed and a team now with home advantage picks up a result which makes all the difference for European football or a title.

“Plus, since the absence of relegation was confirmed I’ve hammered home the point to my players that nothing changes, we do not slack off and must compete as hard as ever for wins.

“Every game still holds significance - players are competing for contracts or opportunities to stake a claim, clubs want to finish as high up as possible to help sponsorship opportunities or when it comes to summer signings and managers’ reputations are built on results.

“I’m sympathetic to those trying to adjust a fixture list given everything going on but I’m speaking as Portadown manager and cannot ever see how a late change helps us protect the integrity and professionalism of our Premiership football.”

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