I'll build a stadium here in three years
Glens President David Chick reveals £50m plans football is waiting to hear
Published 22/06/2008 | 00:00
The man who may yet save Northern Ireland football from international exile spoke exclusively to Sunday Life yesterday about his plans to build the showpiece stadium the game here so badly needs.
David Chick, President of Glentoran, one-time influential voice at the Irish FA and self-made millionaire, WILL build a football stadium in Belfast, regardless of what happens with the problematic Maze project.
He is now in a position to deliver a 10,000-seater stadium, within three years, on the Harland and Wolff Welders/Blanchflower stadium site at Tillysburn in East Belfast, right alongside the Sydenham by-pass and George Best airport.
That is a definite.
But if the Maze bites the dust, which looks likely given the political prejudice, he can move right away to extend the capacity up to double that, giving the Irish FA the 20,000 minumum they believe they need to make hosting international football here viable.
The new stadium, which could even be named after famed son of the east George Best, is also set to provide a home for TWO Irish League Premier sides and a business park, bringing employment to the area.
And again, whatever happens at the Maze, there will be an international dimension at Tillysburn.
For David Chick and his team will also construct a National Centre of Excellence with top class training facilities, to help prepare not just the national team but players at all levels.
Junior and womens internationals will be staged there. Irish Cup Finals and other major local fixtures, too, are on the wish list.
Initial cost projection is £50million — a fraction of the £300million Maze estimates and similar to the amount needed just to bring desperately neglected Windsor Park up to passable health and safety standards.
More importantly, unlike every other stadium plan, from the Maze to the pie in the sky propoals we've heard these past four years, this one does not rely entirely on public money. Nor will the cash-strapped IFA be under pressure to contribute.
Chick and his property development company have already heavily invested their own private capital and will increase their financial commitment as the project progresses.
The purchase of the Harland and Wolff Welders club land on the site has now been completed with the promise that the Welders will be accommodated within the new development.
But to move to the brick-laying stage, Chick and his associates must acquire the adjacent Danny Blanchflower stadium pitches, owned by Belfast City Council.
Talks to bring that about to the satisfaction of both parties are now under way. The Blanchflower name could be incorporated in one of the grandstands.
Then we will discover if Belfast Council are serious in their rhetoric about providing a fit and proper stadium for football and the city.
It also sounds like the answer to IFA prayers with football set to be the biggest sporting casualty of a Maze collapse.
With Windsor's capacity reduced to 12,000 and falling, depriving the IFA of much-needed revenue, no money in the coffers and no hint of Government help to resuscitate the crumbling old stadium, repeated warnings have come out of Windsor Avenue, raising the spectre of Northern Ireland home international games being taken out of the country.
That would be an unmitigated disaster for football here, demoralising for the fans and the sporting image of Our Wee Country.
The only downside to the Chick plan is no provision for a truly national stadium, incorporating all our major sports on a single site, as envisaged at the Maze.
But half a loaf is better than no bread.
And to date it appears the only firm and realistic alternative to the Maze in terms of football's needs.
Which is why leading Government and political figures are suddenly paying attention as a way out of the Maze, in the literal sense.
For those who don't know him, David Chick IS a man who delivers.
He made his money initially from the Plant Hire business, moving into property development with his company Eastonville.
Football is his passion through his long association with Glentoran, obvious tenants for the new stadium, and having served with distinction on the Irish FA's international, disciplinary and Premier League committees, he knows the game and its politics.
Now he is set to mix business with pleasure by hopefully underpinning the long term future of the game here in concrete and steel.
Interestingly, too, he describes himself as a supporter of the Maze concept.
"This is a not a rival bid to the Maze," he stresses.
"In my mind, the Maze should go ahead. In fact, it would be great for football to get both.
"My idea all along has been to been to build a stadium to complement the Maze, not to compete.
"The goalposts seem to be moving now with regard to the Maze but we are pressing on with our original plan ... that is to build a 10,000-seater stadium at Tillysburn.
"But if a decision were to go against the Maze, we would hopefully be in a position to respond to that by increasing our capacity.
"Northern Ireland does need a National Sports Stadium, but primarily I am doing this for football.
"Were the Maze to go, in principle we'd happily open our doors to rugby and gaelic games but I imagine they will be happy to stay where they are."
Football does not have that luxury.
David Chick agreed: "The game here and facilities in particular have been seriously neglected in terms of Government funding down the years, in comparison to other sports.
"All our grounds should have been upgraded, for safety and comfort, under the recommendations of the Taylor Report, following the Bradford fire disaster in 1985. They were implemented cross-channel, but not here."
Which is why we still have an antiquated wooden stand at Windsor and the bizarre sight of a fire brigade stationed alongside at international games.
David Chick further explained: "Even when the Maze was being mooted as the only show in town, I still had the intention to buy and build a smaller stadium in the east.
"The proposal for the Maze was 35,000 which may have been achievable for major international fixtures and concerts.
"But I was thinking of junior, underage and womens internationals — and the likes of Irish Cup Finals. The 10,000 crowds you get for those would be like two peas rolling about in a barrel at the Maze.
"As I said, we were out to co-exist, not compete and I still think there is a market for both.
"I also wanted to incorporate a National Training Centre within a framework like Wigan's JJB stadium, with commercial activities and other leisure facilities.
"And I envisage two Irish League Premier sides going in."
One would clearly be his own Glentoran, though Chick insisted: "That is a decision for the club. I am President of Glentoran but not a member of the board. Therefore I have no say in the decision-making process."
The identity of the other proposed tenant, both of whom, like the IFA, would be charged nominal rents, is now sure to become the topic of keen debate among fans.
Crusaders have been linked to a ground switch from Seaview while perennial nomads Ards would be closer to home than their latest temporary base at Ballyclare.
Could we even have the amazing scenario of fierce rivals Linfield and Glentoran in a ground-share? Unlikely.
Returning to reality, David Chick insists his stadium plans can move from the drawing board to completion in less than three years, less than the time spent wrangling and getting nowhere on the Maze while multi-million pound bills to the taxpayer mount up.
With the proviso: "We first need to reach agreement with the Council on their Blanchflower Stadium ownership at the site and to go forward then, a decision, yes or no, on the Maze.
"That has to be made clear, and soon. When we know the requirements, only then can we start to build.
"We could have a new stadium up and running within two and a half to three years of the start date."
Over to you now, Sports Minister Gregory Campbell.