Only two of the 30 scheduled Northern Irish Premiership have taken place in recent weeks – and both were at Crusaders FC's Seaview home, a reward for their €280,000 investment in a '4G' artificial pitch.
The recent cold snap has led to fears that the season may have to be extended, with teams having to complete 33 fixtures even before the split into two sections of six sides for the final five rounds. Matches called off have included the encounter between Cliftonville FC and Glentoran FC, due to be televised throughout the United Kingdom, and Crusaders have even offered rival clubs the chance to hire out their stadium to try and make up the backlog.
Crusaders have benefitted from being able to play, and although they lost 2-1 at home to Cliftonville on 26 December, a week later they beat Portadown FC 3-2 to go four points clear of Glentoran at the top. They only inaugurated the new pitch on 14 November in the 1-1 draw with Glentoran and manager Stephen Baxter said: "If it can help the cash flow at your club you can be more competitive in the transfer market. This pitch will be the saviour of Crusaders Football Club."
However, the rash of postponements has led president Raymond Kennedy to hint that the Irish Football Association could take a leaf out of the Republic of Ireland's book and turn to summer football. "The postponements have cost clubs a lot of money," he said. "Would we be better moving to the summer? There are pluses and minuses but I would be prepared to try it. If things were not working out after you tried it, you could go back to where we were. You wouldn't have the cancellations that we've had and also with the clear evenings, it would allow the junior game and other football to be played."
Kennedy also pointed out the improved record of Republic of Ireland clubs in UEFA competition since the switch to summer football seven years ago. "Teams in the south are better prepared for Europe," he said. "They have half a season behind them before they tackle European opposition."
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