Belfast kids' football team 'may not return' to Girdwood pitch due to intimidation
A north Belfast youth football team has said they may not continue to use a community football pitch due to threats and intimidation.
On Wednesday night, youth teams from Grove United were training on the 3G pitch at Girdwood Community Hub when a group of around 30 youths reportedly gathered around the pitch.
DUP MLA William Humphrey said scores of fireworks and bangers were then set off, with some landing on the pitch.
Four youth teams from ages nine to 15, both male and female, were training at the time.
"It was very intimidating for the young players, some of whom were in tears, and for many parents who have subsequently contacted our offices," Mr Humphrey said.
The north Belfast MLA said Wednesday's incident is the latest in a series of attacks against Grove United youth teams using Girdwood Community Hub.
“Due to threats against players last year the Grove United u-16 team had already refused to return to Girdwood and the club is now reviewing its entire future use of this facility," he said.
“This is totally unacceptable. There are serious matters arising for Belfast City Council, which owns the facility, and for the PSNI who, we are told, had a presence in the area but did not intervene, and we are seeking meetings at a senior level.
“Girdwood should be a shared facility for all and needs to have adequate security arrangements to counteract those intent on engaging in blatant anti-social and sectarian intimidation.”
John Haddock, head of youth development at Grove United, said the club's future at Girdwood Community Hub is uncertain.
“We have used the Girdwood pitch for three years, but the scale of threats and intimidation means it is unclear if we can continue using this facility," he said.
“Kids’ safety has to be paramount and a large number of parents have also expressed very strong concerns.”
Police said they received a report that youths were trying to antagonise others using the facilities at around 7pm on Wednesday.
Officers, along with community workers, encouraged the crowd to leave the area, however they later returned.
"Patrols returned to the area over the following three hours after opposing crowds of youths had gathered. Stones and fireworks were thrown at officers but there were no reports of any injuries and no arrests were made," a PSNI spokesperson said.
“Parents and guardians need to have an active role in preventing young people from becoming involved or caught up in these activities. Know where your children are, who they are with, what they are doing and what they are arranging on their social media accounts.”
“We do not want to criminalise young people however if offences are identified we will deal with these robustly.”
Police have urged anyone with any information regarding the incident to contact them on 101, quoting reference 1881 of 25/09/19.
Information can also be provided anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
A Belfast City Council spokesperson said: “We are aware of the incident that took place yesterday evening at the Girdwood Community Hub and we will work alongside partners, including the PSNI, to investigate the matter further.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital