Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Celtic Society reiterate rejection as S&L Swifts invite west Belfast community to join project ahead of name change

The Belfast Celtic Society has confirmed that it will have no involvement with the venture

Sport & Leisure Swifts manager Packie McAllister at the club's Glen Road Heights ground.
Sport & Leisure Swifts manager Packie McAllister at the club's Glen Road Heights ground.
Sport & Leisure Swifts manager Packie McAllister at the club's Glen Road Heights ground.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

The new Belfast Celtic will be a club with west Belfast at its core as it strives to reach the top of the Irish League, according to their Treasurer.

The Irish FA confirmed on Friday morning that third tier Sport & Leisure Swifts' request to change the club name to Belfast Celtic has been approved.

The Glen Road Heights side will take on the historic name from next season, confirming an initial proposal that caused much controversy last summer.

While Sport & Leisure appeals for community support, the Belfast Celtic Society has told the Belfast Telegraph that it will have no involvement in the venture.

"Our Society notes the decision of Sport and Leisure Swifts FC to change their name. We would reiterate our Society has no part in this decision and will have no involvement with Sport and Leisure FC going forward," said a satatement.

In July, the Society, as well as existing club Belfast Celtic Young men, had expressed concern as the Swifts announced their intentions.

The Society's aim is to "protect and preserve" the history of the original Belfast Celtic, which was dissolved in 1949 having won 14 Irish League titles and eight Irish Cups. They had warned that "any initiative that could be perceived as a vehicle for opportunism" would be "too much to bear".

However, while stating that they have no intention to become the same club as the Grand Old Team, Swifts have thrown out an open invitation to anybody in the west Belfast community that would like to become involved in their project to restore the name to the Irish League's top table.

"We're extremely excited," said Swifts Treasurer Paul Kane. "It's great that we have got to this point but it's the start of a longer process leading up to next season.

"We want to be transparent, opening and welcoming to anyone in the area who wants to be involved. Every door is open.

"The Belfast Celtic of today is not the Belfast Celtic of yesteryear," Kane stressed. "It's not all of those great achievements of before but it's about looking forward and seeing that there is something special we can do for now and for the future.

"It's a new chapter. This is a new future for Belfast Celtic."

Central to that future, Kane says, is a partnership with the west Belfast community. To that end, the club are aiming to provide employment and 'create a focus for sporting excellence'.

In order to do that, the club aims to work in conjunction with existing clubs in the area and local schools to form a pathway from under age football to the Irish League.

That includes a policy that under age players would not have to pay fees in order to represent the club, while the senior team would become professional.

Crusaders and Larne have both shifted to full-time structures this season and Kane has revealed that part of his club's five-year plan is to become a professional side, playing in the top tier of Irish League football and in European competition.

That's all a long way away from the Swifts' current position, third bottom of the Premier Intermediate League. While just five points above the relegation place, Kane says the club's focus is firmly fixed upwards, as represented by the recent signing of former Glentoran midfielder Stephen McAlorum.

The Treasurer points out that, with Queen's University and the league summit just 13 points away, beginning life as Belfast Celtic as a Championship club is not out of the question ahead of what he is expecting to be an 'influx' of players next summer.

"It might sound mad, but we have 13 league games left and if we can win 10 of those, we could still win the league," he said.

"Next year, we want to bring in local players who are playing elsewhere, be that Ballymena, Larne or Cliftonville, when they should be playing on our side of the road."

If that can be achieved, Kane is hoping that a new fan-base can be attracted to Irish League football.

"We would love to tap into the Celtic supporters who find themselves travelling to Scotland but could support a local club with an historic name - a team they can relate to," he said.

And if it's about supporting the local community while providing success on the pitch - of course, it's about doing it all under the banner of Belfast Celtic.

"The name is synonymous with Belfast and Irish football and it belongs in Irish football," Kane said.

"This name has been out of football for almost 70 years. That's a long time for the name not to be chanted from the stands or spoken about at football matches. It's important that name is backed up on the pitch and in how people support it for it to work.

"The name is important and we don't want to bludgeon that in any way so anyone who has a vested interest should come on board and have a say."

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