IFA launch a plan to shape growth of youth football in Northern Ireland
The Irish Football Association have outlined their ambition to raise participation levels among youngsters in the sport in Northern Ireland from 50,000 to 100,000 over the next 10 years.
The vision is part of the Association's first ever Youth Football Strategy, entitled 'Let Them Play', which was launched yesterday.
The IFA, the governing body for football here, want the Let Them Play strategy to shape how youth football develops and grows from now until 2025.
Currently it is estimated that 50,000 young people play football in Northern Ireland. By 2020 the IFA want that figure to be 75,000 and 100,000 five years later.
The IFA pointed out that while they would love to see some of those youngsters who play the game one day play at international level, another aim of attracting kids to football is for their personal development, helping society as a whole.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, who launched the strategy at an event in Stormont Pavilion in Belfast, said: "This is the first time the Irish FA have developed a comprehensive Youth Football Strategy and we look forward to sharing our new plans with the world.
"It is an exciting time for football in Northern Ireland and Let Them Play, which covers the period from 2015 to 2025, will enable us to work with all our partners in youth football to ensure we deliver the best for all our young people.
"I'd like to see people support this strategy and what the IFA are trying to do to improve the game here."
It is a commendable document with the IFA planning to enter schools, colleges and universities to access and influence young players and to work with clubs around the country.
IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson said: "Creating positive pathways for young people to fall in love with the game of football and stay involved in the game is a key priority for the Irish FA.
"The building blocks of this new strategy are every bit as important as the building of the new National Football Stadium.
"This strategy allows us to have a clear focus on how the youth game will develop, with clear targets for us and our partners to meet over the next 10 years."
Sports Minister Carál Ni Chuilin, who took time out of the political crisis at Stormont to attend the launch, said: "It is an innovative strategy which places young people at the forefront of football development and it is particularly pleasing to see within it clear targets for the development of girls' football and football for people with disabilities.
"I place great emphasis on increasing female participation in sport and commend the IFA for their foresight in aligning the strategy to the overall departmental Sport Matters strategy. A key element of the strategy is the emphasis on sporting activity for those with physical or learning disabilities.
"The message is clear that football is for everyone and every young person who wants to play the game should have the opportunity to do so and in a safe and friendly environment."
Current IFA President Jim Shaw and his potential successor, Deputy President David Martin, also spoke about the importance of the strategy at the launch which was attended by the IFA's Elite Performance Director Jim Magilton, numerous coaches and Michael Boyd, the IFA's Director of Football Development, who played an instrumental role in the document.
To complete a positive week for the IFA, there was a vote of confidence sent from Uefa President, and soon to be Fifa President, Michel Platini.
His message was: "Uefa welcomes this Irish FA strategy and is pleased to support the objectives that will make a positive difference to youth football over the next 10 years. Long term strategic planning is in our opinion key to increase the number of football players. Let them play."
Always a good idea to get people of influence on your side!