Midweek fixtures and more flexibility around re-arranging games will become a feature of Fermanagh and Western football this season, as the league made plans to get the 2020/21 football season underway.

At the AGM on Tuesday night in the Banwacre Centre it was agreed that the league would kick off on Saturday September 19, but the increase in the size of Division One to 14 teams combined with a condensed time frame to play the games left the league with no option but to try to introduce new measures to attempt to alleviate the potential for fixture congestion.

“We are eight games behind in Division One before we kick a ball,” explained League Chairman Neil Jardine. “Then we have the additional teams in Division One, so we have to try to recover those eight games somewhere to get the league finished in a reasonable time frame.”

The league hope that a relaxation of the rules around re-scheduling games will allow more matches to take place. The previous restriction limiting a team to moving a match date no more than 48 hours from its originally scheduled slot has now been increased to 72 hours, meaning teams can play a Saturday game anytime between Wednesday and Monday.

“When the weather turns hopefully that means we can use more artificial pitches and get more matches played,” said Jardine.

“We also have an issue now with referees that has just come to light in that if there is no referee then the game cannot be played.

“Previously the teams would have tossed to appoint a referee, but they can’t do that now for insurance reasons. We are tight with the number of referees we have every Saturday so if couple of matches are moved then it well release that pressure.

“It’s all to increase the flexibility and for clubs to be a bit more proactive in getting games played.”

The league also plans to schedule a series of midweek matches during the campaign to ease the backlog, with games being played at neutral venues under lights.

“Teams would play a minimum of four and a maximum of eight matches in midweek subject to availability of grounds,” said Neil. “We would play seven matches over a Tuesday and Wednesday night to try to catch up again and get the season back on track. Every team will lose home advantage twice if we do the eight fixtures, and none of the clubs in Division One objected to that. I think clubs realise that we can’t just hope to get everything played as normal.”

With no teams being relegated following the curtailment of last season, Division One will have 14 teams this season. A motion was discussed that, if passed, would have seen four teams relegated at the end of this season to restore the division to 12 teams.

This was not voted through however, and the league will remain at 14 clubs for at least another season after the upcoming campaign. “Seventy five percent of those present must vote for a rule change, and although we had a majority we fell short of seventy five percent so that was not passed,” revealed the Chairman.

“We will obviously have to revisit that because it will cause problems and we need to get Division One back to 12 teams but that is democracy and not enough teams voted to pass it.”

The league has also extended the transfer deadline, with the window for signing players extended until the day before the season starts. The present regulations also mean players will not be able to use changing facilities at matches, and they are being encouraged to wear their kit to the match and keep hold of it after the game.

“We are all keen to get things started and hopefully there will be no hiccups along the way, and we will be able to get the season finished,” said Jardine. “We are asking the clubs to be vigilant and follow the guidelines. We are all in this together, and everybody has to work together to mitigate risk and get football played.”