By Andrew Warshaw
October 28 – Plans are afoot to create a ground-breaking all-island domestic league in Ireland that would completely change the landscape of the sport on both sides of the border.
The initiative has come from Irish entrepreneur Kieran Lucid who spoke of his optimism after clubs attended an information-gathering session on the project last week.
“We made it very clear to the clubs that we will not be asking them to take a leap of faith, nor make significant decisions immediately,” Lucid said.
“However, we have asked them to engage in the process, and join us on the journey as we seek to translate the clear goodwill for the All-Island League concept into a tangible, well-funded and unique model that will the reinvigorate the all-island club game.”
“Our working group gave the clubs an update on our proposal in terms of our progress and ongoing commercial negotiations.”
The proposals, which are also reportedly being driven by former Republic of Ireland manager Brian Kerr and ex-English FA general secretary Alex Horne, centre on a 14-team Premier Division comprising leading clubs from both top-flight leagues north and south, with two 10-team regional leagues below linked by promotion and relegation.
Lucid believes it would make clubs on both sides of the border far more competitive in Europe. But to get off the ground the plan would need backing of both national federations, as well as FIFA and UEFA, while a targeted start date of 2021 could be over-ambitious and the situation around Brexit add a fresh layer of complexity.
Nevertheless, reports out of Belfast and Dublin suggest conversations have already taken place with potential broadcasters and sponsors, assisted by a third-party consultancy group named Hypercube.
The first campaign would be a transitional April to January season before reverting to the traditional August to May structure though the Irish Football Association is apparently cautious and keen to maintain its independence in northern Ireland. Another issue is that far more clubs in the south are fully professional.
“No organisation is going to appreciate outsiders waltzing in and saying ‘this and this is wrong, here’s the solution’,” Lucid was quoted as saying.
“The fact is that we don’t have all the answers either, merely a genuine desire to give the club game here a major boost. I don’t think this league will get off the ground with the reluctant and tacit approval of the associations – it needs them to become involved and to actively back it. Things like disciplinary, licensing, referring are just some areas that need to be discussed in detail with the associations. The fact is that they are in a much better position to drive this than we are.”
“There is a recognition among policy makers that football is important to people, that club football facilities need some attention from central government after a long period of decline and, most importantly, there is a chance through this project to create a healthy and vibrant football industry on the island.”
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