Institute ready for fresh start after suspected arson, says club stalwart
The vice-chairman of Institute FC, which was targeted in a suspected arson attack at the weekend, yesterday vowed the club will emerge "bigger and better" following its latest setback.
Andrew Russell, who has a long history with the Londonderry club, was speaking less than 48 hours after a major fire destroyed part of its Riverside football ground.
The changing room block and a supporters room at the rear of the stadium in Drumahoe were extensively damaged following the incident at around 7.30pm on Friday. The suspected arson attack comes less than a year after the Riverside was hit by severe flooding, which left it under 7ft of water, forcing the team to relocate to its temporary home at the Brandywell.
All utilities, including electricity on the site, had been cut off since the flooding - and subsequently police believe the fire was maliciously motivated.
Mr Russell said the latest incident, although "heartbreaking" for Institute, would herald a fresh start for the 113-year-old club.
"We've been at Riverside since the early 1980s and the club had to start from scratch when the site was just green fields and nothing else," he said.
"Without a doubt, what has happened is sad, but we will be redoubling our efforts now.
"The club will be coming out of this stronger than ever."
He confirmed Institute will be seeking a new permanent home and would not be rebuilding at the Riverside ground.
"We will look at somewhere else," said Mr Russell, who played for the club as a teenager and has been a committee member for the past decade.
"We just can't get flooding insurance going forward at the Riverside stadium. No funder's going to invest knowing that there's no flood insurance," he said. Referring to the weekend attack, he said it "broke our hearts". "It was just people intent on damage and destruction. It may have just been a bit of fun for them but the whole building's finished. It's gone," said Mr Russell.
He added that while the incident hadn't directly affected players, since they are playing out of their base at Brandywell, it was "another weight" they didn't need.
But Mr Russell said that the club's new home must still be in the Waterside.
"It's very important to us that it is there," he said.
"We want to build on our links with the community and we need the community and the supporters to come together to help us in any way they can."
Praising those who have helped the club during its difficult periods, he added: "We're thankful to Brandywell and all the political parties who have been supportive, but we can't be nomads for ever.
"We need to be back in the Waterside, that's where we're from." Mr Russell said the club's next step would be discussed at its annual general meeting tonight in Brigade Cricket Club. "We have to come back bigger and better," added Mr Russell.
The PSNI has urged anyone who noticed any suspicious activity near the Riverside on June 22 to contact them on 101.