Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Look who's coming to Co Antrim FA's 125th birthday bash

Michel Platini, who was in Belfast in 2008 to present David Healy with a special goalscoring award, is returning to the city this Spring
Michel Platini, who was in Belfast in 2008 to present David Healy with a special goalscoring award, is returning to the city this Spring

European football's most powerful man, Uefa President Michel Platini, is Belfast-bound later this Spring in a major coup by the County Antrim FA.

French legend Platini, one of the greatest players to grace the game, will be chief guest at the Co Antrim 125th anniversary celebrations in Belfast City Hall on Friday, April 19.

The 57-year old will address the great and good of the local game, assembled alongside the grassroots rank and file of junior football who largely go to make up the proud old Association.

They should be in for a treat with outspoken Platini likely to share and expand upon his revolutionary and sometimes controversial views on the European game.

He has been the driving force behind the incoming Uefa Financial Fair Play rules, aimed at forcing top clubs to live within their means, under threat of being banned from the Champions League if their debts are deemed to be too high.

He is against the implementation of goal-line technology, believing it would undermine the authority of referees and disrupt the natural flow of the game.

And among his more contentious claims is that international transfers of players under 18 is in fact a form of illegal "child trafficking" and should be prohibited by the European Union.

"Paying a child to kick a ball is not that different from paying a child to work in a factory," Platini told EU members.

His reputation as a world class player turned key decision maker makes him one of the most influential and sought after figures in the game.

So how on earth did the Co Antrim, a 'wee' local association within the national association, come to attract such a high profile name as their headline guest for the 125 year landmark.

Dinner organiser David Martin, himself a well known junior football mover and shaker within the Co Antrim and Irish FAs, explained: "We wanted a special guest to mark a special anniversary and decided to go right to the top. We were greatly assisted by the IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson."

On Platini, Martin said: "His standing in the game tells its own story... as President of Uefa he is demand to make appearances all over the world.

"Normally he would be a guest of national associations so for a divisional association to host him is a real feather in our cap."

With 600 member clubs and two-thirds of football played under their jurisdiction, the Co Antrim is a major player within Northern Ireland football.

Platini's two previous visits here were for the IFA's 125th anniversary at the City Hall in 2005 and for a meeting of Fifa's International Board at the Slieve Donard hotel in Newcastle in 2009 and he was hugely entertaining on both occasions.

The April 19 bash will be limited to 250 guests and with 190 invitations already sent out, the remaining 60 on general sale to member clubs are now certain to be hurriedly snapped up now the star guest has been revealed.

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