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Glentoran may finally break new ground in £36m Northern Ireland football boost

By Stuart McKinley

Published 01/12/2015

The Oval.
The Oval.

Glentoran have reasons to be celebrating. Ten million of them to be precise.

The east-Belfast club have hit the jackpot in a new funding allocation announced by the Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín.

A handsome sum of £10m has been pledged to the Glens by Stormont officials, but the celebrations have, so far at least, been muted.

The club have also declined to comment directly on the DCAL announcement, with a 12-week public consultation process under way.

Chairman Stephen Henderson did tell the Belfast Telegraph: "The investment of £36m into football in Northern Ireland is most welcome and while at times there is some naval gazing and jealousy when money is handed out, there should be a recognition that this benefits all of us.

"There are obvious areas of need where this money can be spent.

"We look forward to engaging with DCAL upon completion of the consultation process."

There are other reasons why the Glens are keeping their counsel at present.

They are happy that DCAL want to give them a huge slice of a £36m funding pot for local football, but the final outcome remains uncertain.

There are two reasons for that.

Firstly, the DCAL Sub Regional Programme for Soccer Development specifies that the £10m is for the redevelopment of The Oval.

Sounds great, but the problem is that the Glens have, for a long time, held a desire to move out of their current home to a new, purpose-built venue with external facilities.

It is understood that even within the last few months work has been going on behind the scenes to secure a site.

Staying in the east of the city is a major priority, since fans spoke out against suggestions of a move to Dundonald, which was then scrapped.

Striking an agreement with DCAL to spend the £10m on a new build rather than upgrading The Oval isn't beyond the realms of possibility, but it could delay the process.

The bigger stumbling block is expected to be two different facilities strategies published by the Irish FA.

The first, in 2011, specifically requested a funding package for The Oval.

It states that 'The Oval is arguably the least fit-for-purpose stadium we have for senior football in Northern Ireland at the moment'.

Not only is this the document that DCAL have worked off, it was also an appendix to the consultation paper that they put out yesterday.

The problem is that the IFA want to engage with the Department using their 2012 document, which does not identify any one particular club or venue for funding, but rather asks that around a third of any money available is awarded to 'Strategic Intervention Projects' which could take in more than one stadium.

Under DCAL's plans Glentoran will pick up just less than a third of the proposed £36m, with almost half (£17m) set aside for other Premiership venues.

These, however, have to be what are described as 'designated venues' with one of the criteria being a capacity of over 5,000.

This already rules out Premiership venues such as Ballinamallard United and Warrenpoint Town.

Northern Ireland Football League chairman Gerard Lawlor said: "We would hope that NIFL would be consulted when it comes to allocating funds.

"We are the people on the ground who know where the need is and where the money would be best spent."

While the Glens are trying to urge DCAL that funding a move from The Oval makes more sense than pouring money into the out-dated stadium, they can also argue that they have a case to be given more than anyone else.

The 2011 facilities document highlights the fact that 'the only recent upgrade which this stadium has benefited from involving public money was the provision of new floodlights in 2009'.

Outside of that the last major development work at the east-Belfast stadium was more than a decade ago when seats were installed on the terracing at the Sydenham bypass side of the ground, raising the overall seating capacity by 1,600.

There has been a reluctance to undertake any other major work while the desire to move existed.

Way back in 2002 the announcement of a move was anticipated, but it never came.

More recently, in May 2011 former chairman Terrence Branigan told the club's AGM of his plans to raise £10m for a new 8,000 seater arena.

That, however, was with the idea of completion within three years and four-and-a-half years later, the Glens are still at The Oval.

In February 2012, Branigan confirmed plans to relocate, with a site on the opposite side of the Sydenham bypass, a hefty goal-kick away from The Oval, earmarked as the desired location.

At present, The Oval has a safe capacity of only 5,000, meaning many will be locked out of the Boxing Day fixture against Linfield later this month - a fixture which in the past regularly attracted crowds of double that figure.

For last season's Irish Cup final between the Glens and Portadown, which had to be moved from Windsor Park after structural damage forced the demolition of the Kop Stand, temporary seating had to be installed to bring the capacity up to 8,000.

That highlighted the fact that Northern Ireland needs alternative venues to Windsor Park for staging big domestic games and underage internationals and with DCAL recognising that, it is a major step forward for football in the country.

Belfast Telegraph

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