Thursday, 15 May 2008
Celtic's exclusion forms pretext for MOPE
Recently I highlighted potential for chaos and confusion as the IFA finalised the composition of their new invitational league which is due to kick off next season. I questioned the manner in which 14 domestic licences were allocated but suggested that, having allotted these licences, the IFA should now issue invitations for their new top tier, to licence holding clubs, based on last season’s league position. Of course the IFA instead used Byzantine criteria (established last season) which allocated points for various aspects of infrastructure and organisation within the clubs, rather than simply judging their successful licence application as proof of adequacy in this respect and turning to comparative success on the field.
Predictably potential has been realised and chaos and confusion HAVE ensued. Firstly, for submitting their application thirty minutes late, Portadown were excluded from the league. Subsequently an appeal against this draconian penalty was rejected. One of the Irish League’s top sides will not be included in next season’s competition due to an administrative blunder. Why the IFA felt that this punishment was the only course of action open to them, rather than the imposition of a fine or a points penalty, is not clear.
Additionally the criteria the IFA applied, enabled First Division Bangor and North West club Institute to leapfrog Donegal Celtic, whose league position was higher than either, into the invitational league. Donegal Celtic are appealing the IFA’s decision. Therefore two clubs who finished in the top 12 last year are to be excluded from the league – Portadown and Donegal Celtic.
Portadown are much the bigger loss to the Irish League. However predictable sources have been quick to interpret Donegal Celtic’s exclusion as evidence of sectarianism from the IFA, thus their plight is currently attracting the more heated discussion. Rather than questioning the basis of the criteria used to issue invitations to the league the cry of oppression has gone up, “they’ve been excluded because they’re a club from nationalist West Belfast”. It is impossible to emphasise enough what utterly pathetic nonsense such claims comprise.
The IFA’s means of selection was inept. God knows I’m the first person to impugn the organisation for their regular displays of incompetence. But the clubs had agreed to the criteria which were used and had ample time in order to work towards ensuring their invitation would be forthcoming. Bangor FC’s hard work in this respect has paid off, even though, by no criteria based on their on-field exploits would they have qualified for inclusion. The IFA actually relaxed necessary ground-requirements in order to allow DC’s promotion in 2006. Similarly ground criteria were dropped from the points system which eventually propelled clubs above the Suffolk Road club and into the invitational set-up, in order to provide teams such as Celtic with more time in which to improve their dreadful facilities. Donegal Celtic otherwise would have had no chance of acquiring a domestic licence in the first place.
There is not a shred of evidence to substantiate allegations of IFA sectarianism. The episode is unfortunate and I have sympathy with Donegal Celtic and their supporters, but they are only one team out of a number who feel harshly treated. It is scarcely believable the zeal with which those who otherwise have no interest in Northern Irish football or the Irish League have rushed to make ill-considered and ill-informed accusations of bigotry. There has rarely been a more apposite example of the Most Oppressed People on Earth mentality.
Donegal Celtic claim to be a team with ambition and potential. Next season they will most likely line up in Irish League football’s second tier, due to a silly method of selecting teams for an invitational league, instigated by the IFA. The club has every right to appeal, but they are unlikely to be successful, as the criteria which were most likely to be used were outlined a year ago. Their course of action in the case of a failed appeal should be a strenuous attempt to gain promotion from the Intermediate League next term and they should simultaneously attempt to get their dilapidated little ground in order. Meanwhile those of a republican bent, who are forever on the lookout for possible offence, whether it constitutes going through the cupboards of council offices searching for Princess Diana mugs, or alighting upon a dispute within local football and trying to impart on it a patina of sectarian bias, deserve only disdain.