Niall Quinn tells Airtricity League clubs that deal for return is still being worked on
‘It’s going quite well but there is so much of the jigsaw to put in place’
Gary Owens and Niall Quinn pictured after a meeting with Government officials back in January. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Niall Quinn has said that the FAI is still working to add to the package of funding it has assembled to help get the Airticity League restarted behind closed doors after clubs were told on Thursday that it had identified ways in which a little over half of costs, estimated at €2.6 million, would be met.
The figures, which included payments of totalling €1.1 million to clubs to compensate for the loss of gate receipts and other matchday revenue, were greeted with scepticism by some clubs in a conference call involving all 19. Interim chief executive Gary Owens is said to have told those online that the league could be completed without some of its teams if particular clubs decided they wanted to opt out.
In an interview with Newstalk on the day that the seasons of both League Two in England and the Cypriot league were formally abandoned, Quinn said that he believes the clubs are happy that there an ongoing “process” and he insisted that the association’s efforts to bring in as much revenue as possible for a restart are still ongoing.
“It’s going quite well,” he said, “but there is so much of the jigsaw to put in place.”
Under the plan outlined to the clubs on Thursday, the league would return in late summer when Government restrictions allow with a shortened league season (18 games for each division) completed over a period of three to four months in a small number (perhaps three or four) of grounds.
A number of clubs, most obviously those scheduled to play in Europe, are keen to return to regular competitive football but others remain doubtful about the numbers and there appears to be a fairly widely held belief that the €1.1 million figure is not sufficient to provide the required help with wages and other costs.
Quinn has repeatedly sought to make the case that the association’s plan is intended to leave the clubs – many of which are still paying wages with the aid of various Government supports – better off than they would be if the league is not restarted, but he has yet to convince everyone that the plan makes any sort of sense for their clubs.
Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers have playing budgets of around €2 million per year, which equates to a weekly wage bill of some €40,000 and as long as they keep paying that then they would benefit from any return. But for clubs like Sligo Rovers, St Patrick’s Athletic and Waterford, who have suspended payments to their players, even a one-off payment of twice the €50,000 average would do little to address the cost of a six week ‘pre-season’ and 12- to 15-week campaign.
The position of the players’ union, the PFAI, is that their members’ contracts will have to be honoured one way or the other, something that may yet be the subject of a major clash with clubs. But a majority of the league’s professionals do want to return and on Friday, Quinn insisted that the numbers put before the previous day’s meeting are not the association’s final word on the matter.
“We are not there yet in terms of completing the journey on the finances,” he said. “So I don’t think that we should stop now and ask: ‘What is it?’ I think they should give us a little more time to bring a little more certainty to the table so clubs can make a decision on whether it’s worth it for them to go back or not.”
The association has said that in the event the league does restart as outlined it will look at after the medical protocols required, an area that additional clarity is expected on after a scheduled meeting between FAI medical advisors and the HSE on Friday.
The figures outlined on Thursday, however, contain a figure of €1 million for the cost of staging all of the games in the limited number of venues, an amount that seems to be regarded as low. The Belfast Telegraph reported on Friday that a meeting of the Northern Ireland Football League on Wednesday evening was told that Covid testing alone for all of the people involved would cost £10,000 (€11,230) per game in the event that the league there is restarted behind closed doors.
And a Premier League club official quoted in the British media today talks about a bulk purchase of 10,000 tests there coming in at around £100 (€112) each. On that basis – and various other sources cite higher amounts per test – even the 50 or so tests required to ensure players, match officials and a very small number of other essential staff were Covid free, the cost would around €5,500 per game.
In order to complete 18 games for the Premier and First Divisions, the association needs to get 145 matches (68 and 77 respectively) played. So testing, on that limited basis, would account for almost €800,000 of the €1 million with deep cleaning and a great many other measures still needing to be paid for.
Quinn, in any case, appears to remain confident that the restart could happen and said that talks about the use of three grounds for the purpose have taken place with announcements on various fronts expected over the coming days. They will, it seems, have to be very significant, however, to substantially change opinions before May 25th, an initial deadline apparently, for national associations to inform Uefa of their plans.