Children from Belfast interface areas have a ball
More than 150 children from notorious Belfast interface areas have come head-to-head — on the football pitch.
Youngsters from areas such as the Shankill, Falls, Suffolk and Lenadoon took to the pitch for a six-hour football tournament on Tuesday.
The sevens soccer tournament was hosted at north Belfast’s Seaview stadium, home of Crusaders FC, for the second consecutive year.
Teams from inner east Belfast, south Belfast’s lower Ormeau Road, the Village, Sandy Row and Roden Street, west Belfast’s Suffolk and Lenadoon interface, and the nearby Falls, Springfield Road and Shankill, graced the pitch for the competition.
After 37 games — including a penalty shootout — Immaculata FC and Inner East Belfast FC claimed victory, alongside Waterworks girls’ football team.
But yesterday was about more than football for organiser Neill McKee, from Suffolk Lenadoon Interface Group (SLIG).
He said: “We do good relations workshops looking at the similarities and differences between interface communities. We ask the kids what they know about interfaces, and the consequences of interface violence.
“One of the kids was saying a consequence was getting a criminal record. One said that you cannot go to America (if you are convicted of a related crime) — and they talked about the effects it has on their community when there is a retaliation attack.”
He added: “What we find is the kids start to form natural relationships.
“Someone is a good footballer and they want to know him. Organic relationships are formed.”
The teenage participants who talked to the Belfast Telegraph spoke of making friends with people they would never have had an opportunity to meet.
A recent report — the Northern Ireland Life and Times survey — indicated that more than 80% of people aspire to live in a mixed neighbourhood.
The Housing Executive, which funds the scheme, said the tournament goes some way to making interfaces a thing of the past.
Connor Smith (32), community cohesion adviser with the Housing Executive, said: “We are trying to break down those barriers across interfaces and sport is a very good way of tackling sectarianism.”
Gerry Flynn, director of housing and regeneration at the Housing Executive, said it gives children an opportunity to see at first-hand what it would be like living in a shared community.