A partnership between Mid and East Antrim Borough Council (MEABC) and three local Irish Football League clubs says there is ‘real excitement’ among supporters about when a date will be announced for the permitted return of fans to their stadia.
Competitive outdoor sport organised by a club or individuals has resumed without spectators and with no more than 100 people participating.
Representatives of MEA United, a task force made up of Council in collaboration with Ballymena United, Larne FC and Carrick Rangers FC, are now calling for the resumption of reopening sporting fixtures to spectators.
The three local clubs last year joined forces with MEABC to form MEA United, in a joint bid to secure £25million from the Department for Communities for the development of football stadia across the borough, and recently launched their blueprint for the future of the sport locally.
Kenny Bruce, Larne FC owner, said:
“There is real excitement among our fans about getting back to enjoying the game and as a club we are hopeful that the Northern Ireland Executive will announce a date for that to happen sooner rather than later.
“Our clubs are at the heart of our communities, and we have been consistent in adhering to the health and wellbeing of our players and staff throughout the pandemic.
“Football is about the fans, and we want them back to soak up the atmosphere of competitive action as soon as we can.”
Councillor Matthew Armstrong added:
“We are delighted to see sports men and women return to their fields of play in Northern Ireland, and will continue to champion the call for a date on which sporting clubs will be permitted to open their gates to their loyal fans.
“There is no better time to allow our clubs to do what they do best, and that is provide a link to their communities and foster the love of sport.”
Councillor Gregg McKeen also supported the call, saying:
“It is wonderful to see the resumption of some businesses sectors and that competitive sport has started again.
“There is a real appetite for spectators to be welcomed back to their clubs and we are all ready to see a date for that to happen.”
Mayor Welcomes New Stand at Greenisland Football Club
Mayor, Cllr Peter Johnston along with Deputy Mayor, Cllr Andrew Wilson and Cllr Bobby Hadden visited Greenisland Football Club to see the commencement of the works to provide a new 128-seater spectator stand and turnstiles, which will bring the grounds up to meet Intermediate League status requirements.
Mid and East Antrim Council in partnership with Greenisland Football Club have been working together to deliver this new stand. Through working in partnership, the club have been able to secure £45,000 of external funding and along with a contribution from the club Council are contributing £35,000 to deliver the £90,000 spectator stand.
Mayor, Cllr Peter Johnston said: Once again, I would like to pay tribute to Greenisland Football Club and in particular the time and commitment that the club members put into progressing this project.
“As a Council, we have been delighted to help fund a portion of this work and to enable the vision and objectives of the club to be met.
“Greenisland Football Club are a fantastic club and it is no surprise that they have recently been recognised from UEFA as one of the top grass roots football clubs in Europe.”
Mervyn Montgomery, Greenisland Football Club said: “We are indebted to the on-going support of our External Funders and Mid & East Antrim Borough Council, to enable us to build upon the existing facilities at Greenisland and to develop further our Community Sports Programs and Longer Terms Plans for the Club.”
This new stand will further enhance the major investment Mid and East Antrim Council made in 2018 through the delivery of a new 3G facility on the back of £100,000 of funding the club secured from SportNI.
The Club and Council had also secured external funding to upgrade the grass pitches, which are owned by the Council, in 2018 at a cost of £50,000.
Mid and East Antrim Council are committed to working with all groups within the borough to ensure that our ratepayers and residents have top class facilities which will improve their quality of life and their health and well-being.
Irish Football Association Skills Programmes Helping the Community
Economy Minister Diane Dodds has praised the work of the Irish Football Association in helping build the skills base of the local community.
The Minister met with community outreach staff from the IFA and heard about the work of the IFA Foundation, which has helped thousands of young people acquire a range of accredited qualifications since it was established in 2017.
The Minister said: “The IFA Foundation does excellent work in the local community building the skills base of young people. The Foundation helps young people attain vocational qualifications that not only make them more employable, but also boost their confidence and desire to potentially go on and study for more qualifications in future.
“This in turn embeds a culture of lifelong learning in young people. I know the IFA Foundation is keen to further build on their work by introducing apprenticeships and they have begun engaging with my Department to explore how this might be achieved.”
Keith Gibson, Acting Director of the Irish FA Foundation, said: “We were delighted to be able to welcome Minister Dodds to the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park to discuss our employability programmes.
“We also talked about our vision for engaging young people, including the possibility of introducing apprenticeships at the Irish Football Association.”