“We are keen to grow the competition and maximise the potential of the final as one of the main showcase events in the football calendar for the benefit of the competing clubs, sponsors and the fans.”
We wondered what this statement from NIFL really meant when they announced earlier in the week the rescheduling of the Bet McLean League Cup Final between Cliftonville and Coleraine.
Originally set for a date in February, the Belfast Telegraph reported this morning that March 13, a Sunday (YES! A SUNDAY!!!), has now been earmarked for the big day.
The Telegraph also reports that NIFL is planning to offer reduced ticket prices in an attempt to boost the attendance.
This of course breaks the mould set over many years by ultra-conservative local football legislators... and NIFL should be applauded.
The Irish FA has staged internationals on Sundays of course, something that under current scheduling by UEFA/FIFA was an inevitable consequence anyway, but club football in the province has almost always stuck to the ‘No football on Sunday’ code.
The ban on Sunday football in Northern Ireland was lifted on 1 June 2008 despite opposition from amongst others the DUP, when the Irish FA voted by 91-14 to remove Article 27 from their constitution. Until then this was the last country in Europe to have such an outdated restriction in place.
Glentoran were the first club to host an Irish League match on a Sunday on 7 September 2008, when Bangor were the visitors. The FA’s Article 27 had been replaced by Article 36.b allowing matches to be played on Sundays provided both teams and the organizing competition agreed.
There have been very few, if any, instances since.
Even now, Linfield the country’s best-supported club, refuses to play home games on Sundays. Their Article 24, coincidentally the same Article number as the Irish FA’s old abolished rule, stated that no games would be permitted on their grounds on a Sunday.
However they were forced to make an amendment since it would have prevented Windsor Park from hosting international matches, so Linfield’s Article 24 now states that “no games involving Linfield could take place at Windsor Park on Sundays.
It’s embarrassing to call a first major club final on a Sunday ground-breaking, but for Northern Ireland it is exactly that. Perhaps not just as strikingly so as it would be had the ban still been in place or the national team not already staged matches at home on the Sabbath, but it represents a significant shift all the same.
Compared to the UK or indeed the rest of Europe, it’s nothing, but here... it’s bold.
Gerard Lawlor and NIFL are to be commended for their foresight. Cliftonville and Coleraine the clubs involved, according to the Telegraph report are open to the idea.
Anything that provides a boost to the local game is welcome.
I was at the Aviva in Dublin a few short weeks ago. On a Sunday. It was the occasion of the FAI Cup Final. Ticket prices were set at 15 euros... 30 euros for the expensive seats. 37,126 attended.
The Bet McLean Irish League Cup Final will not attract that figure, but it should match the trend. You get the drift.
A cup final, a 10,000+ crowd at the National Stadium, screened live on TV... sure what’s not to like?