Opinion: Friday night’s not always alright for matches

Ballymena United striker Darren Boyce gets his pass away from Dungannon's Douglas Wilson during Friday night's game at Stangmore Park. Picture: Press Eye.
Ballymena United striker Darren Boyce gets his pass away from Dungannon's Douglas Wilson during Friday night's game at Stangmore Park. Picture: Press Eye.

I’m a big fan of what the Northern Ireland Football League has achieved since it took over running the top three divisions in this country.

There had long been a perception among football fans in Northern Ireland that the domestic game was the poor relation when it came to the Irish Football Association, with greater attention and resources devoted to the national team.

Since NIFL assumed control of the Danske Bank Premiership and the two Championship divisions, it has breathed new life into what we still call ‘Irish League football’ in this country.

Some of their initiatives - particularly those based around social media - have opened the local game up to a wider audience and have contributed significantly to increase in attendances during the first half of the campaign.

I’m not convinced, however, that they’re on to a winner with their insistence that all clubs should play at least one Friday night fixture - as part of a NIFL trial - before the league splits at the end of this month. A few weeks ago, Linfield complained about a home game against Portadown being moved to a Friday night.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of these people who takes the arrogant view that Irish League football should be played at 3pm on Saturday and everything and everybody else must fall into line with that.

But there’s a huge difference between a club making its own decision to change the date of a match and having it effectively forced upon them.

I firmly believe a club should think about changing the date or kick-off time of a home match if it’s going to benefit them financially - perhaps in the case of another event taking place nearby which would impact upon the attendance.

As an example, I can’t imagine Dungannon Swifts profited heavily by the switch of their match against Ballymena United to Friday night.

The die-hard supporters of both clubs will always be there but the new faces that NIFL are trying to attract might not turn out in force.

Games between clubs in close proximity might lend themselves to the idea of a Friday night and might attract a fair few ‘last minute decision’ fans but for the distance involved in Friday night’s game, it meant that in practical terms, some Ballymena fans wouldn’t have been able to get home from work in time to go to the game - that’s hardly going to boost attendances.

* Follow Ballymena Times Sports Editor Stephen Alexander on Twitter (@Stephen_Bmena)