Sunday 25 February 2018

Athlone Town calls for 'not fit for purpose' First Division to be scrapped

Athlone Town has called on the FAI to scrap the eight team First Division as it is not
Athlone Town has called on the FAI to scrap the eight team First Division as it is not "fit for purpose". Newsdesk Newsdesk

Athlone Town has called on the FAI to scrap the eight team First Division as it is not "fit for purpose".

In a statement released today, the Midlands club says the governing body should look to the MLS for inspiration before other clubs go out of existence due to financial constraints.

Here is the statement in full:

"Athlone Town AFC are calling on Irish Football's governing body to scrap the eight team division and look to the MLS when considering how to re-structure the League of Ireland.

Athlone Town AFC, very proud winners of the competition in the past, feels the current state of the second tier affairs are such it would be better off being consigned to history. At present the division is simply not fit for purpose.

While a proposal to scrap the division was rejected some years ago, Athlone Town AFC believes the time is right to reconsider having just a single league with no relegation or promotion.

The club is of the opinion that the division as currently structured, with just eight clubs, is simply not viable for the teams involved, players or fans.

There is no getting away from the fact there is little interest in the competition.

There are too many games against the same opposition, and fans are literally voting with their feet and not turning up in sufficient numbers. 

Also some the costs for the clubs are substantial given the long distances between the teams that currently make up the Division. 

It goes without saying that factors such as these are having an obvious negative effect on club’s finances.

Any financial shortfall can leave clubs like ours in a perilous position, and could lead to more teams going out of League of Ireland Football.

This would be a huge loss to the game given it is universally accepted Irish football needs a strong league with a healthy presence in all regions.

At present relegation from the Premier division is more than just a realignment of teams based on their playing strength.

The reality is that the drop has become too severe a punishment in terms of club finances, local and national interest in the club, and very tellingly in the media. 

Athlone Town AFC have found this out all too soon after last season's relegation from the top tier.

In our opinion it would be better for the league to have no relegation even though many would feel it would lead to more dead rubber games with teams at the bottom of the league having little or nothing to play for.

Looking at the bigger picture the Club feels that in order to solve this problem we should look to leagues like the MLS.

What we suggest is to have all teams at the same level, but split the league into two conferences, in a manner that is identical to the current MLS format.

That league has become very successful in what is a tough sports market.

Like the MLS Irish teams would play every other team in their respective conference on a home and away basis. A third round of games would be played against the teams in the same conference on a half at home half away basis.

At the end of each regular season the top two, three or four sides could play off in knockout games for the overall league title. Last seasons 'winner takes all' tie between Cork and Dundalk really boosted the profile of the league.  

Having such a Final every season would, we accept not be to the liking of all, but surely it is better than the current state of affairs.

Relegation battles would be consigned to the past, but we believe that the scramble for survival does nothing for the clubs involved, nor does it attract more fans/media interest.

The FAI Cup Final could also be played earlier in the season, preferably during the summer months when there is less TV opposition from the UK or other leagues. 

What is important is that the powers that be need to start a process that will help long established clubs, like ours, not just survive but thrive.

Interest in the domestic game needs to be boosted and we echo the recent comments of Niall Quinn about the league needing a revamp.

We hope the debate on the league's future begins today, as Athlone Town AFC feel it is vital that action be taken sooner rather than at a point when it is too late."

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