Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Crusaders on course to tackle Liverpool, Hearts and Leeds

Aiden Watson tackles Liverpool ace Suso at Ravenhill last August

Crusaders are set to announce a glamour pre-season tournament and a quick reunion with Premier League giants Liverpool.

A Liverpool XI defeated Crusaders 3-1 in front of 14,000 fans in the first ever football fixture played at Ravenhill, the home of Ulster Rugby, last August.

There was a phenomenal demand for tickets to see Brendan Rodgers' young guns and those who missed out on that occasion will be braced for another ticket scramble.

Crusaders commercial manager Norman Coleman is still finalising plans for the four-team tournament which could take place at the Ballymena Showgrounds from Thursday, July 25-27.

The Danske Bank Premiership side were hoping to return to Ravenhill and stage the tournament there but Ulster Rugby's redevelopment work booted that idea into touch.

A request has been forwarded for the use of the Ballymena Showgrounds with the council expected to give the green light.

While Crusaders have not officially announced Liverpool's imminent return to the province, the Merseyside giants have indicated they will support the tournament.

Scottish Premier League side Hearts have pledged their support and Crusaders are also hopeful that Leeds United will complete the line-up for the four-team tournament.

Liverpool's presence would attract bumper crowds and be a huge coup for the progressive Crusaders board. It is hoped that more first team players will feature in the game after a youthful side lined up at Ravenhill. Suso, Adam Morgan and Nathan Ecclestone were on target for the Reds on that occasion.

The tournament also attracted interest from South African side Ajax Cape Town and Spanish outfit Sporting Gijon who compete in the Segunda Division. However, subject to a few i's being dotted and t's crossed, Liverpool, Leeds United and Hearts will be showcasing their skills on Warden Street in July.

Meanwhile, Glentoran boss Eddie Patterson says he doesn't have a problem with Crusaders' seeking a judicial review over plans for a £25m upgrade to Linfield's stadium, Windsor Park.

Stormont chiefs and the Irish FA are keen to push on with the redevelopment work which involves two new stands being built but the Shore Road club have lodged a legal complaint.

The Crues say the redevelopment would create unfair revenue streams and could breach European Union competition laws.

The transformation of the international venue is part of a £110m package which will also provide a facelift to Ulster Rugby's Ravenhill grounds and the GAA's Casement Park.

However, there are fears that a protracted legal case could scupper the project and delay the allocation of vital funds to other Irish League clubs including Glentoran. The High Court has heard details of Crusaders' concerns and the case has been adjourned until next month.

Glentoran desperately need a cash injection from government to realise their dream of building a new home in east Belfast.

The club, which has been haunted by stories of unpaid wages this season – following on from a mystery benefactor bailing them out of a £450,000 tax bill – hope to move to a new 10,000-seater stadium in the Titanic Quarter.

Patterson said: "I am disappointed by it but at the end of the day Crusaders have to look after their welfare. That's the bottom line and I can understand their view. You can go back to the old argument of the IFA giving Linfield money for the use of their ground.

"If the IFA came to the Oval and the Oval was the main stadium in the country we would have done a similar deal as would Cliftonville or Crusaders and everyone else.

"You can't criticise Linfield. Any other club would have taken the same opportunity. I understand that the Crues have got to look after themselves. I am aware of the problems that exist over the possible distribution of funds but it's up to the powers that be to arrange the fair distribution of money."