A decision to move the Milk Cup final from Coleraine has been described as a “serious blow” to the tourist industry in the town.
Organisers of the annual event, which attracts football fans from all over the world, have cited new health and safety issues as the reason behind the shock decision to move the final from Coleraine to Ballymena.
Describing the move as the “most difficult decision” in the 28-year history of the international youth football tournament, chairman Victor Leonard stressed that it will be a temporary move, adding that the showpiece finale would return to Coleraine when facilities there were brought back to the required standard.
UUP MLA and Coleraine Borough councillor David McClarty said he is confident the council will ensure every step is taken to return the Milk Cup final to Coleraine in 2011.
“Unfortunately in Northern Ireland we can’t rely on the sun so in order to maximise our tourism potential we have to provide other attractions and the north coast certainly has provided some of the best events in Northern Ireland, such as the North West 200, the airshow and the Milk Cup,” he said.
“It is a serious blow that the final is being held in Ballymena this year because Coleraine is the spiritual home of the event. We may have lost the event this year but we will redouble our efforts to ensure it is back again in Coleraine next year.
“The council is well aware that necessary improvements are required to the showgrounds and I believe the council will be determined to make sure the improvements are carried out.”
Capacity and facilities are the major problems at Coleraine. The crowd limit there is now under 3,000 while a Milk Cup final featuring Manchester United or Northern Ireland, as per the past two years, will attract up to 7,000. Ballymena can accommodate 5,000. Mr Leonard said: “New Health and Safety legislation is coming in which will further restrict the capacity of many venues across a wide range of sports in the province. It will mean the capacity of Coleraine Showgrounds will be greatly reduced, falling far short of the requirement for our three finals.
“We require a location that provides spectator comfort for four hours as many of our supporters are present for all three matches.”
This year's Milk Cup kicks off on Monday, July 26 and runs until Friday, July 30 — finals night.