Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

John Laverty: Belfast stadium idea is now skating on thin ice

I heard Belfast councillor Bob Stoker on the radio the other day. I couldn't see his face, obviously, so I couldn't tell you how straight it was when he was delivering his remarks.

And was his tongue firmly in his cheek? Who knows.

But you have to give his interviewer, the ever dependable Talkback presenter David Dunseath, ten out of ten for not falling around the studio in fits of laughter.

No, BBC veteran David kept it together ... no mean feat after just hearing the boul' Bob suggest the Odyssey car park as one of the possible venues for our proposed new multi-sports stadium.

Bob, you have got to be kidding. The alternative - that you're deadly serious - is too frightening to contemplate.

The Odyssey car park. Really! The irony is so delicious, you could eat it with a spoon.

This is the same Odyssey car park, let me remind you, that a week earlier motorists had queued for up to SIX HOURS to get into.

These people had paid good money for tickets to the High School Musical On Ice extravaganza but many of them didn't catch a single minute of it.

It couldn't have been much fun for the performing skaters either, playing in front of a raft of paid-for, yet frustratingly empty, seats.

It was a disaster - not only for the punters that day, but for the proponents of a multi-sports stadium to be built in central Belfast, rather than at the Maze site 11 miles down the road.

If this is what High School Musical On Ice can do to Belfast's traffic, what on earth would, say, Northern Ireland vs England in football, Ireland vs France in rugby - or Tyrone vs Armagh in GAA - do with four or five times the number of people?

With that in mind, I can't really see the former Lord Mayor's Odyssey car park suggestion flying, can you?

To be fair to the man, though, he is one of those city fathers who is totally behind the idea of an urban stadium - and he's bending over backwards to try and realise that dream.

The Belfast Council-owned former Maysfield Leisure Centre site, beside Central Station, was also mooted.

Can't see that one taking off either. As someone who walks past that particular piece of land virtually every day, I can confirm it would be ideal for a stadium - if table tennis was the only sport using it. There simply isn't enough room. End of story.

Ormeau Park? Another non starter, I'm afraid. The residents would simply not wear it – and don't forget that one of its biggest opponents just happens to be the First Minister of Northern Ireland, and the boss of one Edwin Poots, the minister who will ultimately decide where the new stadium will be built.

Pootsy was giving nothing away at Stormont last week, which was not surprising in the present climate.

There was no way he was going to say he "had a mind" to have the thing built down the road (in his constituency), and we certainly didn't find out if he knew Seymour Sweeney or merely "knew of" him.

No, Mr Poots was merely outlining a report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers - who are based right across from Maysfield, funnily enough - and who reported that, all things considered, the Maze proposal made the greatest financial sense.

I don't know how much these consultants were paid for their research, but most of us could have told old Pootsy the same thing for nothing.

Personally, I don't really care any more where the thing is built. It's hard to believe that after almost 10 years of talking, not a single brick has been laid.

The Causeway Centre, the light railway line for central Belfast, the multi-sports stadium . . . dear oh dear, are the government ever going to get round to building anything in our wee country?

Local businessman Peter Curistan swept past me in his big Merc the other day; now there's a guy that would have had all three things built already.

My understanding is that the stadium will finally get the go-ahead later this year, and if it isn't at the Maze I'll eat my laptop.

Mr Stoker and his colleagues, meanwhile, remain hopeful they can make it happen in Belfast. They're the equivalent of an unfancied football team who are only 1-0 down against a really great side - and you know what they say, Bob; when it's only 1-0 you've always got a chance.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers scored the opening goal last week but Pootsy has yet to deliver the killer second.

And in the meantime Bob and Co are searching for an equaliser. Maysfield - and the Odyssey car park - were howling misses but other suggestions such as the north foreshore and Tillysburn hit the back of the net as far as many fans are concerned.

I sincerely hope there's no extra time, though. We've had more than enough of that already.

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