Football Fighting Finish but So Much More
Updated: Jun 23
I grew up with football. I loved it. Still do. It brings out that inner tribe. For me it brings so much more today than i knew it could as a child. Football brings communities together under a banner and a cause. There is a fighting mentality, that winning mentality that is needed to succeed. It also can do great work within communities. Within my own community during the Covid-19 crisis Warrenpoint Town coaches and volunteers went door to door with hampers and various supports. Our main sponsor Deli Lites and club Director donated food parcels to the front line support workers and the homeless. In more normal times the Football Club provides healthy habits through exercise, competitive games, and a family. Unfortunately, the football fighting finish to the 2019/20 season in Northern Ireland has made it to the boardroom. It is unfortunate but with Government guidelines in place and the UEFA nominations alongside the technical end of the season there is simply no way of completing the remaining games. It is a stressful time for all football clubs and indeed having talked to most clubs in the Premiership I know how much time and energy has gone in to try and find solutions. The challenges facing the clubs were simple but the solutions were difficult. How should the season be concluded? Should there be a Champion? Should there be relegation? Who should be nominated in keeping with UEFA guidelines for their competitions? How can we support all clubs as they stare down an economic depression with loss of commercial revenue, rising costs to manage Covid? How do we maintain Sporting Integrity? What about the players Health and Safety? When can fans return? Of course, within the NIFL family there are 35 teams and whatever could be agreed at one league can have implications on another. An example of this was when the Championship decided that a team should be promoted. As midnight candles burnt, the deadline got closer. I felt we were very close to an agreement. That Northern Ireland last minute brinkmanship in play but ultimately a deal. Unfortunately and with regret it wasn't to be. Where now? It will be over to the NIFL Board. They will have massive decisions to make, but maybe, with football on the pitch for season 19/20 now off the table something can be agreed in the coming days before UEFA nominations are made.
My own view is that we complete the season using weighted Points Per Game (option 3 below) as done elsewhere in Europe. That nominates Linfield to the UEFA Champions League Preliminary rounds and Coleraine as UEFA Europa League Qualifying. Then the third will come from the Irish Cup if the Irish FA insist on it going ahead (something I do not think should happen). Cliftonville would go 3rd. There probably are another 6 ways to do a calculation!
The Money Dilemma
As clubs lose out on the opportunity to qualify for Europe and other clubs are impacted by the Economic Crisis unfolding as a special one-off gesture I do believe money should be divided among clubs. If I assume that there was 18% of the season left and there was agreement to put 18% of the UEFA Solidarity money into the NIFL pot to create a 'Covid Recovery Fund' it would generate approximately £185,000. NIFL are scheduled to receive an extra £340,000 over the next 4 years via UEFA funding and part of an IFA agreement.
The commercial realities and differences of Premiership versus Championship are massive. Therefore I would believe the larger amount of this money should go to the 9 clubs in the Premiership that wouldn't benefit from UEFA solidarity monies. Perhaps around £25,000 to the 9 clubs with £3,000 to each of the Championship and Premier Intermediate clubs. That leaves the surplus to go to the 4 clubs that could still qualify for Europe and miss out on it due to the crisis. This is very close to the model presented by another club but in my feeling it could overcome some hurdles.
There is no doubt though that Government, like they have done elsewhere in Europe, need to put something into a pot for football. back to what i said at the start. Football provides so much more to our communities and ultimately we need all clubs to survive.
The talk of a 14 team league is not concerning but the mention of 3 clubs to be relegated is. In my view the proposal brought forward by another club of a 14 team Danish Super League model should have been considered and implemented on a trial 3-4 season basis. It would have prevented relegation but also have given promotion to two Championship clubs. The model does look quite interesting, perplex but most importantly exciting. To bring two clubs up from the Championship for one season and expect them to compete financially or be relegated would not be fair. It would put clubs financially at risk from that desire to compete but also through loss of gate receipts from the visit of the 'big 6' as the model as mentioned elsewhere would have reduced the visits of those teams.
Football is a game of opinions and that's part of the attraction. Many will disagree with my thoughts above, and that's fine. One thing for sure, i have never saw 11 other people so passionate and work so diligently to get a resolution as I witnessed the last few weeks. I do hope a common sense prevails and we get resolution so as football can resume sooner rather than later on the pitch. This would bring immense joy to our communities and I for one would love to be on a sideline roaring again!
Update - 23rd June 2020
This morning NIFL have announced that the season will be concluded that the 2019/20 will be curtailed immediately and that a mathematical model will be applied to final standings by an independent football data consultancy. This model will follow best practice across other leagues in Europe and in accordance with UEFA principles. Titles will be awarded and there will be automatic promotion and relegation across the leagues. Therefore, playoffs will not happen. Link to full statement below:
So what are the mathematical options?
Option 1 - Points Per Game
This option takes the average points per game and multiply's it by the remaining number of games. See below image. It has no impact on the league table.
Option 2 - Relative Form from last 8 games
This option looks at the Point Per Game in the last 8 games and the Points Per Game all season. PPG Last 8 - PPG Season = Relative Form. The issue with this formulae is that it takes no cognisance of the split within our league and the impact it has on form. While this creates a nice league table it is very subjective and certainly given the time that has passed would not reflect any semblance of reality.
Option 3 - Weighted Points Per Game
This option has been widely used across Europe at all levels. It takes the PPG one step further by looking at home and away points per game. Given the makeup of our league which results in odd numbers of home and away this is perhaps the best options available. This option takes the 2 games before the split and then adds the 5 split fixtures. Interestingly the only difference in this table is the moving of places between Cliftonville and Crusaders.
Option 4 - Projected results based on previous fixture
This option takes earlier season results and applies the same result to the unfulfilled fixtures. What was quite surprising to myself was that it didn't change the table positions at all. I see a greater challenge with this in terms of UEFA guidance issued on the 23rd April to member Associations. It is subjective and assumes the same conditions exist in the repeat fixture i.e. manager, players, weather, referee etc. We all know in football these things are the variables that impact a result.
UEFA Guidance of 23 April below: