Championship clubs want 'elite' status as start of season looms

Darren Mullen of Newry City has argued for parity for Championship clubs

IN a hard-hitting statement Championship clubs have urged the IFA to grant them ‘elite’ status in line with the Irish Premiership so that their league can resume without the fear of further postponements.

Currently, the Irish Premiership is the only football league allowed to continue during Covid19 restrictions, but the Championship clubs feel this “discriminates” against them and therefore have sought an urgent meeting with their governing body.

On Tuesday night, the Northern Ireland Football League [NIFL] confirmed the start dates to both the Championship (November 28) and the Premier Intermediate League (December 12) – providing the local government restrictions are lifted as scheduled on November 27.

While it’s good news to have start dates for the clubs on the lower rungs, the fear is another lockdown would derail their campaigns because they aren’t deemed ‘elite’.

The over-riding concern is that many clubs may go to the wall if the plug is pulled on games during the season.

Explaining the reasons behind the release of the statement, under the heading ‘One Voice – One Game’, Newry City manager Darren Mullen said: “This is the collective frustration of the managers that we’re not being represented strongly enough for ‘elite’ status.

“It’s the IFA that’s making this call, so we want to speak directly to them, get our message across and let them explain why ‘elite’ status can’t be changed or broadened, because if there’s another lockdown we’re back out of football again. The clubs won’t be able to cope with that.”

All the Championship clubs insist that they can meet all Covid protocol in the same way Premiership clubs currently do.

“Players are coming to us and some of them are honestly struggling and there is a knock-on effect on our fans as well,” said Mullen.

“They’re struggling because they’ve nothing to come and watch. It’s the whole community of Newry and every other area that’s affected by this ruling.

“There is no valid reason for us not to be deemed ‘elite’. Nobody has given us one.”

Championship clubs have enlisted legal advice on the matter.

The Championship statement read: “Each club has invested substantial effort and resource ensuring that they have appropriately qualified staff and a designated COVID-19 officer. Are these people being told that they are less capable of controlling our environment and our reaction to this pandemic than those in similar positions at Premiership clubs?

“With over 70 professional players and coaches within our league, we believe that those players and coaches are being discriminated against by the non-elite grading of Championship football whilst the football authorities and the government have granted elite status to the Premiership.”

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