Belfast Telegraph

Sport and Leisure Swifts' name change could harm our own Irish League dream: Belfast Celtic Young Men reveal grand ambitions

By Gareth Hanna

Existing club Belfast Celtic Young Men have revealed their own Irish League dreams and spoke of their fear over the repercussions of another west Belfast side's proposed name change.

Bluefin Sport Premier Intermediate League club Sport and Leisure Swifts announced their intention to change their name to Belfast Celtic Football Club last month, having taken the decision at the club's AGM.

The Irish FA has included the proposal in their schedule for Thursday evening's board meeting and are expected to grant or deny the request. As per the IFA's Articles of Association, whatever decision the board reaches will be final.

Since the proposal was announced, the Belfast Celtic Society, set up to 'protect and preserve' the history of the original Belfast Celtic, have denied links to the project and outlined concerns regarding the move.

Now Belfast Celtic Young Men have revealed fears that their own prospects could be damaged.

The club, whose senior men's team won last year's South Antrim League Premier Division, was set up back in 2013. Co-founder Ryan Whelan has spoken out about his club's links with the Belfast Celtic Society and their ambitions to bring the famous Belfast Celtic name back to the top tier of Irish League football.

It has been missing since the 'Grand Old Team' was dissolved in 1949 having won 14 Irish League titles and eight Irish Cups.

"It feels likes a kick in the teeth, to be honest," BCYM co-founder Ryan Whelan said of Sport and Leisure Swifts' July announcement.

"Our plan is to be up there in Irish League football within 20 years and, while it is not their aim to get us to change our name, we're concerned that Sport and Leisure's proposal could hurt us."

There are precedents of two Irish FA registered clubs with similarly related names, for example Bangor FC and Bangor Young Men FC. However, Whelan feels uncertainty over what S&L's proposal could mean for his own club.

"We are a community club, we're a not-for-profit organisation and we're in the process of becoming a charity," he continued. "We don't have an owner, as such, and we don't have the resources to go out and buy our name so in that way, we're pretty much open.

"We have tried to stay out of this all along because it was nothing to do with us but we now feel that we are being forgotten about in the process. We have 280 members, who play for the badge of our club.

"We want to get the Belfast Celtic name back into Irish League football and the Belfast Celtic Society have said that they would rather do that as a grass roots club."

Whelan's club have grown over the course of their short five-year history to a total of 280 members, fielding 14 teams from 2014s juniors to two senior men team alongside U9, U11 and senior ladies sides.

The co-founder also told of amalgamation proposals brought to Young Men before Swifts' name change announcement but explained why his club opted against the move.

"We met with Sport and Leisure Swifts but they made it clear that they wanted to keep their name and so we walked away," he said. "We don't want to let our name and our identity go."

That's because the historic Belfast Celtic name is still held in the highest regard, not just in the west Belfast area, but across football. Whelan explained why his club have treated carrying it with the utmost respect.

"The first thing we did was speak to the Society," he said. "We wanted to bring the name back to the area but we don't want to be known for all of Belfast Celtic's achievements. We wanted to have our own identity and we've done that, adding the 'Young Men' to our name.

"Since then, we have made donations to the Society, we have paid electricity bills and we have supplied referees for tournaments they have held. The club and the Society have both supported each other over the last five years.

"What we wanted to do was follow the ethos of Belfast Celtic. We've tried to do that through doing similar work in the community that Belfast Celtic did. We've helped food banks and we have done a lot of work regarding mental health.

"With the messages we have received since Sport and Leisure Swifts' announcement, it has made us realise that we are not the small club we thought we were. We're well known and we're well established in the local area.

"It's hard work running the club but seeing people walking down the Whiterock Road with your club colours on makes it all worthwhile."

At the end of last month, Sport and Leisure Swifts confirmed that they were in the process of formalising the name change and said they will release further plans in the near future.

"We are fully aware of the sensitivities of bringing such an iconic club back to life, which is why it has always been our intention to involve interested parties (in shaping) the future of our club as soon as we get formal approval to change our name," the statement read.

"Our club have not entered this process with opportunism and exploitation in mind, rather we see it as a chance to encourage the growth of Senior Football in the west of the city and to develop talent and encourage a better view of our area from people who reside outside of West Belfast."

Should the Irish FA grant Sport and Leisure Swifts' proposal at their board meeting tomorrow evening, it is expected that the name change would not come into effect until next season.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph