Institute chairman Bill Anderson seeks assurances

Institute chairman Bill Anderson wants assurances that the 2021/22 Championship season is played to a finish.

Bill Anderson, Institute chairman. Picture by George Sweeney
Bill Anderson, Institute chairman. Picture by George Sweeney

Championship clubs didn’t play any league games last season as Covid-19 restrictions meant that the Championship was not given the elite sport status required to play and the campaign was declared null and void.

There’s been no change in status ahead of the new campaign and Anderson doesn’t want a similar situation this time around.

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The ’Stute chairman also warned if the season is ended abruptly then some Championship clubs may even fold.

“To be honest we have done really well as we have had 15/16 months without football and we managed to keep together the majority of our players and they are working quite hard,” he insisted.

“They kept training and kept fit, which was good but we really need some sort of commitment from NIFL (Northern Ireland Football League), the IFA (Irish Football Association) and the Northern Ireland Executive that once the season starts on August 7th, we can be assured that the season will be completed without interruption unless there are COVID circumstances.

“If the COVID rate goes up again and we have another sort of lock down scenario, where Premiership teams continue to play but teams in the Championships are not playing, that would be problematic, not just for us but for all Championship clubs.

“Championship clubs will go to the wall and fold, players will then have had two years of their development in football taken away from them, some older players might just decide it’s not worth it anymore, so if football has to stop, start, stop, start it’s going to be difficult not just for players but also supporters and sponsors will lose interest.

“It’s critical that we get some sort of assurance that Championship football can also continue alongside Premiership games should we have another COVID situation.

“COVID has proven in the past to be unpredictable and should it create a situation that we need to have additional lockdowns again or whatever, we need assurances that the Championship can continue, with or without fans, as happened with the Premiership last season and that’s what should happen to the Championship.”

Anderson also confirmed that the club are currently talking with Derry City and Strabane District Council about using the changing rooms and allowing spectators into the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium.

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“I have pointed out to the Council that Sport NI website states that both indoor and outdoor changing rooms can be used providing the proper risk assessment is done,” he added.

“I suppose since March 2020 when the football was curtailed and eventually the season finished local council regulations do not appear to be in line with the national body recommendations. There are local decisions which are taken locally. So whilst we can point to the national guidance Council won’t always follow that and that’s a bit of an issue.

“We have pointed that out to the Council and we are waiting for them to get back to us. They are saying that we need to meet with the safety advisory group, which we will be doing in the near future, so hopefully the use of changing rooms will get sorted and we’ll be able to get fans into our games.”

Anderson is hopeful supporters will be able to attend 'Stute games at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium this season; he admits talks about the situation with Derry City and Strabane Council are ongoing.

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“The situation there is that the national regulations from Sport NI and the IFA (Irish Football Association) are that they are allowing 500 fans into a game but again we have to go through the safety advisory group with Council and again that’s another indication that local regulation are different from national regulations and at this moment in time the national regulations would allow us to use the changing room and have up to 500 fans at matches, but that has to be negotiated locally.

“Now that restrictions are starting to ease, players, fans and ourselves as a committee are now starting to be able to hold meetings together and meet up, that’s important and good for everyone.

“The boys are working really well and we have an away game on Saturday at Enniskillen Rangers. We wrap up our friendly games against Finn Harps, Cliftonville and Ballymena United before the start of the season. Hopefully that will put us in shape for our first game away to Dergview.”