FAI board to meet again as anger grows over league restart announcement
Nine Premier Division clubs backed a different proposal than the one favoured by First Division sides
The FAI board will meet again on Thursday after a row broke out in relation to the restart of the Airtricity League. Photograph: Inpho
The FAI board will meet again on Thursday evening to consider the basis on which it was announced on Tuesday that the Airtricity League was to return. At an initial meeting on Wednesday morning, the association’s directors declined to endorse the National League Executive Committee (NLEC) approved formula.
Premier Division clubs, nine of which backed a different proposal regarding the return, remain angry that their preferred solution was passed over in favour of one supported by First Division clubs and there was a suggestion on Wednesday that top-flight clubs will not be attending meetings scheduled for Thursday in protest at the way the issue has been handled by the association.
The NLEC considered four options at its meeting on Tuesday and voted 5-2 in favour of one that kept the system of promotion and relegation envisaged at the start of the season. In the vote, Noel Byrne of Shamrock Rovers, who chairs the committee, voted with the First Division clubs rather than the other two Premier Division representatives who both backed a straight one-up, one-down proposal.
The two members of the committee nominated from other sectors of the association, Paul O’Brien and board member Dave Moran, also backed what was regarded as the status quo (one-up, one-down plus a playoff between the team placed ninth in the Premier Division against the one to emerge from games between the sides placed second to fifth in the second tier) apparently on the basis of legal advice which suggested that it would be the least likely to be successfully challenged by unhappy clubs.
Now, it seems, the clubs that are unhappy want to see the legal advice with a letter sent to the association to request access to it following a lengthy meeting of the Premier Clubs Alliance held on Tuesday night.
Before that meeting, Sligo Rovers had said that the club would return to action on July 31st but insisted that it regarded the decision to persist with a system that could potentially result in two top-flight sides being relegated despite the length of the season being halved as “grossly unfair” and “unjust”.
It said that despite the stated intention to return, it did not regard the matter as concluded and on Wednesday the club’s chairman, Tommy Higgins, told local radio station, Ocean FM that is issue is “not dead by a long shot”.
“We are fighting to get that flawed decision overturned. Half the season should mean half the relegation. There is a long way to go yet and hopefully we can overturn this decision.”
There is a wider anger among the Premier Division clubs, though, that, as they see it, the view of the largely amateur First Division prevailed over that of the generally professional top-flight outfits. There is also a belief that Gary Owens and Niall Quinn who were attempting to find a solution, were supportive of the second tier sides’ position. The pair have previously said they simply wanted to facilitate an agreement.
Commenting on the situation on Wednesday, one First Division club official suggested it was ironic that the Premier Division clubs were consistently so scathing in their assessment of the clubs from the First Division and yet the key element in their objection to the proposal adopted by the NLEC was that one of them was going to have play off against a side that might have finished fifth in the lower league.
“Surely they should have nothing to worry about,” he said with a laugh.
It is not clear what the board will make of it. Three of its members have links, past or present, to Premier Division clubs potentially affected by the decision while a fourth, voted for the formula adopted on Tuesday.
There is understood to have been significant unhappiness at Wednesday morning’s meeting that things have been allowed to get to this point but any decision on the substantive issue may come down to the view taken on the significance and strength of the legal advice and the fairness of the procedure.
The board seems unlikely to actually change the NLEC decision but might yet prolong an already torturously long, difficult and damaging process by seeking to have the committee consider the matter again.