Irish Premiership: Clubs would like fans back before end of season says Warrenpoint boss Barry Gray

Irish League fans
It is likely that when fans are allowed to return to Irish Premiership grounds, the numbers will be limited

Irish Premiership clubs have not ruled out the possibility of concluding the season with a limited number of fans inside the grounds, according to Warrenpoint Town manager Barry Gray.

A decision on how to end the campaign has been deferred until Uefa discusses European dates next Wednesday.

"There's an indication from Sport NI and from government that football matches for us with spectators in some form may have the possibility of returning in late July, early August," said Gray.

"If the Executive and the Chief Medical Officer came back and said that it's safe to come back to play sport... the second step would be (to ask) is it safe for spectators in a limited number to come back inside our ground?"

The Executive's five-stage roadmap out of lockdown indicates that spectators will not be allowed at sporting events until we reach stage four, and even then there would be limits on the number of fans permitted.

Gray indicated that there would be considerable support for concluding the league in the presence of fans, if it were safe to do so.

"You have to remember Premiership grounds in Northern Ireland aren't like the English Premiership," said the Warrenpoint boss, who extended his current deal with the Milltown outfit last week.

"It's quite easy for us to have a ground at a capacity of 50%. Most clubs would be delighted if they could get their ground numbers up to 50% every week.

"If that's the case, then regardless of sharing European money, it's potentially viable for all clubs to return and play the seven games with spectators through the gate."

'Two-game scenario not under consideration'

The Irish Premiership is one of the last leagues in Europe to produce a plan for concluding the current season, with clubs and the NI Football League so far failing to collectively agree on the best way forward.

Last week clubs rejected the two offers proposed by NIFL, one of which was to finish the season on the pitch by playing two more rounds of fixtures while the other would see an independent panel choose a mathematical formula that would determine final league standings.

The redistribution of £1m of European money also remains a huge issue, with most but not all clubs believed to be in favour of splitting the pot.

Barry Gray
Gray signed a two-year contract extension with Warrenpoint last week

"It's quite clear that the appetite from the vast majority of clubs is for no return for two games," said Gray.

"There are two, potentially three clubs that would consider that and the other nine are saying absolutely definitely no.

"Option one is to come back and play the seven games with spectators, and option two is the season will have to be completed (via a mathematical formula).

"What we've got to be realistic about is that the carving up of that European pot, if it happened, wouldn't be that massively substantial to everyone in the league.

"What clubs really want is to be able to return to the seven games, (but if not) have a carve-up that suits everyone in European positions and everyone that's not so that there's a notion that the league will support itself in times of crisis, which is what we're in.

"If we don't get to return to those games, then it's wholeheartedly unfair to expect teams who have the chance to compete in Europe now or have the potential to be in those positions, to redistribute their money in a scenario that's unfair."

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