Belfast Telegraph

No use crying over spilt Milk... Coleraine should have seen this coming

By Jim Gracey

The switching of the Milk Cup Finals night showpiece 28 miles down the road to Ballymena will be a bitter pill to swallow in Coleraine.

After 23 years basking in the reflected glory of the Friday night crowd-puller, it is a blow to Coleraine's football and civic pride, and to the town's economy for the money it brought in.

Not just on the night, but through worldwide media coverage putting the town on the map.

To see their pride and joy go the way of their rival borough is further salt in the wound.

But when they eventually get past the initial hurt and disappointment, and the undoubted anger, too, the townspeople and in particular those responsible for the upkeep of the famous old Showgrounds, are entitled to be asked: why did they not see it coming? Once a credit to Coleraine, the state of the Showgrounds has deteriorated shockingly down the years.

Now it is no longer deemed fit to host its biggest crowd of the year, up to 7,000 on Milk Cup finals night, or the young stars of the future from the world's top clubs and footballing nations.

Once home to the county agricultural show, you wouldn't now herd animals into the dilapidated stands or the shockingly sub-standard changing accommodation endured in recent years by the six teams involved on Finals night.

It shouldn't have needed pointing out.

But for years the Milk Cup organisers have been waving huge placards under the noses of the Showgrounds owners, (North Derry Agricultural Society) the local council and the Coleraine club.

They kept the Finals there longer than they ought through a strong feeling of affinity to the town that gave birth to the tournament, now recognised as the cream of Europe.

Top class teams need top class facilities, likewise the large attendances they attract.

Ballymena now ticks the boxes Coleraine Showgrounds couldn't.

Losing the Milk Cup final is a sad day for Coleraine, to be sure.

But the pill can be sweetened if some good comes out of it.

Minds now need to be focused in Coleraine on providing a stadium fit for purpose, not just for the Milk Cup, but for the town football team with its proud tradition and a passionate local football public.

Coleraine is a football town and its support helped make the Milk Cup the success it has become.

Going to Ballymena is a gamble for the tournament organisers, though they had little choice in a decision forced on them by Health and Safety authorities.

Will the crowds turn out in the same numbers as they did in Coleraine, with many making a week of it, holidaying on the north coast?

The FA Cup didn't suffer from its temporary move from Wembley to Cardiff and back, but we do tend to take things a bit more to heart here.

It could take five years to restore the Coleraine Showgrounds to their former glory but that's what needs to be done.

Coleraine needs the Milk Cup and the Milk Cup needs to be back where it all began.

It should never have got to this stage, but now it has, hopefully neither will take the other for granted again and both will move forward together.

Belfast Telegraph

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