Belfast Telegraph

Omagh stadium that once hosted Manchester United is razed

By Allan Preston

A former Northern Ireland international has said it is "a crying shame" that a well-known former Irish League football ground has been demolished.

St Julian's Road was home to Omagh Town before their bankruptcy in 2005.

In the years that followed the stadium - which once hosted the stars of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea in charity matches - fell into ruin.

Two years ago this newspaper reported on the sad plight of the ground.

The stands were consumed by weeds and hedgehogs had taken up residence in the overgrown mess of grass that was once the pitch.

What was left of the stadium has now been razed.

Fermanagh and Omagh District Council said it planned to undertake an environmental project at the site that will see St Julian's Road cleared and transformed into "an attractive open space resource for the local community".

It said the first phase of the project was to clear the site, which was now under way.

Ivan Sproule, who went on to play for Hibernian, Bristol City and Ross County, was at Omagh Town before turning professional.

"For me it's devastating to see it pulled down and I think a lot of people have questions to answer," he said.

"It's such a sad thing for such a big area not to have a team at a senior level."

He said he was inspired to become an Irish League footballer after seeing his older brother win the Budweiser Cup with the Co Tyrone club.

"Without going on to play for Omagh Town I wouldn't have enjoyed the career I did, so it's very disappointing," he added.

"It's a shame no one's got to use the grounds since 2005.

"I don't know if other clubs lacked the ambition to take it on or if the council held back. But it is a crying shame for youngsters in Omagh."

Local journalist Paddy Hunter shared pictures of the demolition on social media this week, prompting many ex-players to voice their dismay.

"The bigger picture is the fact the grounds were left to wrack and ruin after 2005," he said.

"There were more junior teams who enquired about using it, like Dunbreen Rovers and Strathroy Harps, who maybe had some ambition to go higher.

"There's a possibility if they got it they could have progressed to intermediate football.

"Omagh United came along a few years after Omagh Town finished. They played in Mid-Ulster league football and they got promotion to the top tier of it with a thought of moving on.

"I think not getting the use of St Julian's Road hamstrung them.

"The argument the council always had was that it wasn't safe and would cost too much to develop.

"I talked to a few local groundsmen, though, and their opinion was that a month or two of work would have had the playing surface back in good condition."

Omagh Town leased the site, a former rubbish tip, from Omagh District Council in 1987.

In 1999 the stadium hosted three sell-out matches to raise money for the Omagh bomb appeal, hosting the Old Trafford, Anfield and Stamford Bridge giants.

An all-star United team won their match 9-0, with Teddy Sheringham scoring four.

In 2005 a 1-0 defeat to Institute saw Omagh Town relegated from top flight football, and the club folded shortly afterwards due to financial difficulties.

More than a decade later, in 2016, many local supporters were shocked by pictures showing just how dilapidated the grounds had become.

With the pitch and stands badly overgrown with weeds and shrubbery, the same spot once occupied by dedicated fans and footballers was now overrun by wildlife.

Mr Hunter said it was a lost opportunity that there was no longer a football ground in the area capable of hosting big games.

"I feel there's been no foresight here whatsoever," he added.

"In 2005 there was grant aid available for projects like this.

"So I feel like it's a shame that no one tried to save the grounds, and I think that will come back to bite them in years to come.

"There's so many junior football clubs in Omagh looking for pitches, so that's why this is such a shame."

Belfast Telegraph

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