The anger and frustration felt across the football community in Northern Ireland over the lack of stadium funding really resonates with Jim Shaw.
Elected Irish FA president in 2010, Shaw was pleading for help when the sub-regional funding was a commitment made by the NI Executive 11 years ago.
As of yesterday, politicians were making promises but in this climate of political crisis when Stormont isn’t functioning properly, it’s anyone’s guess whether the £36m will finally be released.
Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey met with Irish FA and Northern Ireland Football League officials and reassured them that the funding programme remains on track.
But politicians will now be judged on their actions, not their words, as promises have gone unfulfilled for more than a decade.
Shaw, who stepped down as president after Northern Ireland’s remarkable Euro 2016 campaign, says it’s “unbelievable” the domestic game finds itself in this desperate position.
The former long-serving Amateur League chairman has plenty of sympathy for football while acknowledging the game has been let down by politicians.
“In 2011 the stadium funding was talked out and it’s amazing we are in 2022 and waiting on it,” said Shaw.
“It tells you how insignificant sport is to people at higher level.
“I know health is far more important but countries support sporting organisations.
“When I first became president, there wasn’t a great amount of community work but now we are doing things we never would have dreamed of.
“There’s an enormous amount of work done within football bring people together. We were fortunate to get Windsor Park done.
“I think we did the right thing getting Windsor redeveloped for the national team and other activities.
“That took a long time, but it was achieved.
“In business you wouldn’t dwell on something for that many years, otherwise time determines you don’t need it.
“The money was needed many years ago and Government committed to it and for the money not to be released is unbelievable.
“The money is there but politicians haven’t agreed on how to move things forward.
“Now with inflated costs in the building industry, the funding won’t go as far.”
Irish FA and NIFL chiefs have lobbied Government officials and co-operated with consultation exercises but their patience has been stretched to the limit.
“The Irish FA and NIFL have put a lot of effort into pushing Government officials and the clubs have business plans drawn up and planning permission,” added Shaw.
“I don’t think football has dragged its feet on this. Football is like the youngster in the sweetie shop who wants something and the parent won’t give them the money.
“If this was approved many years ago, politics is holding back progress and I don’t understand how Casement can proceed and the stadia funding not.
“There’s no real logic behind all of this and it’s pathetic in many ways.
“What sort of business would make a plan like this and not cut a sod 11 years later?
“During the Troubles, football here didn’t get the same benefits as mainland UK did after the Bradford fire when grant aid was given for better health and safety and improved infrastructure. Our game didn’t see those benefits.
“In fact we are probably sitting where English grounds were 30 years ago.”
The Northern Ireland team has also been impacted through the lack of world class training facilities.
“We have always recognised the benefits of having a National Training Centre and that has still to be built,” said Shaw.
“Michael O’Neill took the Northern Ireland team to train in Dublin while in terms of first class facilities, we have been left behind.”
The Irish FA and NIFL both welcomed reassurances given by the Minister for Communities yesterday.
NIFL stated: “This afternoon the NI Football League held a meeting with the Minister for Communities and Irish FA following the events of earlier this week.
“NIFL thank the Minister for her time and welcome assurances received from her in relation to the ‘Sub Regional Stadia Programme’.
“NIFL CEO Gerard Lawlor stated: “It’s been a difficult week for all our clubs, but I welcome the Minister’s response to our concerns this afternoon.
“We held an open and frank discussion and we received assurances: the programme will proceed as planned, acknowledgment that an increase on the 36million is required and is being sought, and the programme remains a flagship project for the Executive.
“Communication is key in the delivery of this programme going forward and I hope to see it delivered in a timely manner.”
Lawlor added on Twitter: “We must give credit when due, thanks to @DeirdreHargey for her openness today & listening, we all have a role to now lead and deliver this programme for the good of Football & our Clubs.”
Conrad Kirkwood, Irish FA President, said: “We were pleased to hear the Minister clarify the remarks she made earlier this week and that sub-regional funding for football stadia in Northern Ireland would still be made available.
“We know football improves people’s lives.
“We also know that, in Northern Ireland, it is in need of investment which is long overdue.
“Our job now is to work in collaboration with the Minister, and all football stakeholders from senior clubs at NIFL to the grassroots, to ensure this promise is delivered on.”
The Executive collapsed earlier this month when Paul Givan resigned as First Minister.
Individual ministers remain in place but can only make decisions that are not deemed “significant or controversial”.
Minister Hargey stated: “I welcomed the opportunity to reaffirm my commitment and intention to deliver this much needed scheme which will benefit football at all levels.
“Today I have met with representatives of IFA and NIFL and together we will work to progress this project to the next stage.
“The money is there, we need to find a way of unlocking that money without the Executive.
“I will be writing to the other Ministers to see how we can take that forward.”
NIFL member clubs are set to meet on Monday night at Windsor Park to discuss the delay of the funding.
The clubs hope the meeting will result in a united voice against any further delay in releasing funding.