Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey is expected to increase funding package
Irish League clubs are confident the £36.2m Sub-Regional Stadia Funding plan for football will be revisited, leading to an increased cash injection.
A meeting hosted by the Northern Ireland Football League at Windsor Park on Monday has been hailed as positive and constructive, amid renewed hope the flagship project will finally be signed off at Stormont.
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has reassured the Irish FA and NIFL that the funding is ringfenced and will be released but now there’s a recognition that additional funding is required to modernise stadiums across Northern Ireland.
Given that NIFL has 43 member clubs, construction costs have soared and the Irish FA is hungry to build a new National Training Centre, the £36.2m pot announced back in 2015 will need to be increased.
It is also acknowledged that grassroots football and the women’s game are in line for a slice of the financial pie.
The redevelopment of Casement Park, meanwhile, has been estimated at £110m and football clubs are determined to transform their own venues to attract more families. NIFL say they will visit teams to understand their needs and clubs believe Minister Hargey understands the need for further investment.
Glenavon chairman Adrian Teer, who attended Monday’s meeting, said: “I understand there is a recognition that, in view of the passage of time and also due to the additional money poured into Casement Park, that the £36.2m may very well be revised.
“I’m told the Minister recognises that reality.
“Everyone knows that building costs have soared, especially after Brexit.”
Newry City chairman Martin McLoughlin, who was also at the meeting, said: “According to NIFL, the Minister has admitted that £36.2m is not enough. That is a positive in my book.
“The reality of rising construction costs needs to be grasped.
“In the building industry products are increasing in price by the day, steel in particular.
“It’s been a frustrating wait but I’m still hopeful that something might happen before the election.
“The ideal scenario is to release funding in two phases.”
Previously, the recommendation was that Glentoran would receive £10m to upgrade their Oval ground with £17m available to other Premiership clubs capable of hosting fixtures with a 5,000 capacity, with teams able to apply for up to £3m to provide “quality football facilities and community facilities”.
There was another £3m for Championship clubs and the same figure was to be put towards intermediate and junior football, and a further £3m for a National Training Centre to aid current talent and future stars.
A fresh review has indicated that the women’s game and football at grassroots level also need financial backing, while Derry City will request support.
Lurgan Blues chief Teer believes that match funding could come into play for funding applicants.
“Clubs could receive 80% of the overall cost of their project via match funding,” he added.
“So they would have to raise around 20% from various sources. The early indications are match funding will be required but this all has to be confirmed.
“The trend of the discussion was the money could be paid out over a period of time but NIFL are right to meet clubs and look at it from a need and value for money perspective. I think urgent need for refurbishment needs to be recognised and stadiums need to be modernised to attract families. We need to assess clubs’ needs as we move forward.
“I thought it was a very positive, well-attended meeting. It was a credit to NIFL and showed the benefit of the clubs coming together.”
Teer’s positive outlook was also shared by Newry chief McLoughlin.
“There was a lot of straight talking done at the meeting,” he said. “It was fairly positive. Gerard (Lawlor) talks about looking after the NIFL 43, the member clubs. The IFA are in there looking funding too and how it is filtered out needs to be sorted.
“If this money doesn’t head out to parts of the country clubs could be lost like what happened with Omagh Town.
“They had a frank meeting with the Minister and she is trying to move the project on. Clubs just want enough to meet their needs. I think the IFA will have an eye on Casement Park and it’s in their interests if the venue can host a Euro 2028 match.”