The words “Northern Ireland” “Football” and “Common Sense” are not often found in the same sentence.
In matters as simple as promotion and relegation, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a simple matter of “the bottom side goes down and the side top of the league below goes up”… but you’d be wrong.
First up, a bit of previous
In 1995, when relegation was introduced, a weird system involving taking the team’s average placing from the last two seasons to decide who gets relegated resulted in Bangor having to lose against bitter rivals Ards to stay in the Premiership (essentially, Bangor’s average position could not be changed by winning, but Ards winning would have pushed other teams’ average down). Unsurprisingly, they lost 2-0 and stayed up at Coleraine’s expense.
In 2008, a league restructure meant that every club had to apply for a special licence to play in the Premier League. In their wisdom, Portadown decided to leave it until the last minute to apply for their licence. What they hadn’t banked on was a traffic jam on the M1 which meant they missed the deadline by a matter of minutes, and so became potentially the only team to get relegated while listening to George Jones on the Westlink. The main beneficiaries were… Bangor.
The following year, Bangor decided that the Premier League was costing them too much money so chose to relegate themselves. Except they didn’t finish bottom of the league (which honour went to Dungannon) so Dungannon went into a playoff against second-placed First Division team Donegal Celtic. But Celtic weren’t happy with this (especially after they lost) because they understood that they were supposed to play the 11th-placed team, Bangor, who’d already got relegated. Their pleas to have a play-off walkover against Bangor (and for Dungannon to get relegated) fell on deaf ears.
And so to this season. In order to get promoted, First Division (called Championship 1 now) clubs must apply for a licence. Only four of the 14 clubs (Institute, Carrick, Larne, and Distillery) bothered. Larne and Distillery were never in with a hope, while Carrick’s challenge ended this week. Institute were second going into the final round of matches a point behind… Bangor.
Ards had been bottom of the Premier League pretty much all season. But if an unlicenced club won the Championship 1, they would go into a playoff against the second-placed team, giving them a chance of survival, so they were rooting for rivals Bangor, who had a home game against mid-table Harland and Wolff Welders, while Institute had a visit from already-relegated Limavady.
Institute coasted to a 2-0 lead over Limavady at half time, while Bangor went 1-0 up against the Welders. So far, so good. But Welders didn’t read the script, and when Josh Cahoon latched on to a through ball midway through the second half to equalise, Ards were in trouble. Bangor couldn’t find a winner, so Institute won the league and promotion by a point and Ards were relegated. Not having applied for a licence, Bangor didn’t enter a promotion playoff against 11th placed Premiership team Warrenpoint.
But the story doesn’t end there, oh no. Josh Cahoon, the scorer of Welders’ equaliser has signed a pre-contract agreement for next season… with Ards. Credit to him for his professionalism (if you can call it that in a semi-professional league), but there surely can’t be many other players in footballing history who has scored a goal (other than an own goal) that has relegated his future employers.