Belfast Telegraph

Swifts, Mallards and Point fume as they miss out on £36m football pot of cash

By Stuart McKinley

Football in Northern Ireland is set to benefit from a £36m windfall, but it seems that it's a case of more money, more problems.

It is intended that all levels of the local game will feel the impact of the funding, but not if you are Ballinamallard United, Dungannon Swifts or Warrenpoint Town.

All three have hit out at the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure as they have been left out in the cold because none of the five strands of funding are open to them.

Although a £17m slice of the cake is due to be awarded to top flight teams, the Mallards, Swifts and Warrenpoint - who respectively are the only senior clubs in Fermanagh, Tyrone and Down - don't have what is described as a 'designated venue'.

One of the criteria is a 5,000 capacity, or at least the possibility of accommodating that number of spectators in the ground.

That has lead to disgruntlement and anger among the three overlooked clubs and they are now intent on having their say during the 12-week consultation process.

Ballinamallard chairman Jeff Aiken said: "When you have spent as much on your ground as we have and then when funding becomes available you can't apply, it is hard to take.

"We don't want stands, but some extra seats would be nice. We would like to develop our club house with certain facilities, so £3m would be welcome. We will respond to the paper and make our voice heard."

Warrenpoint's Milltown home was upgraded after they were promoted to the Premiership two years ago. The club still has plans to do more, with lights, a 3g pitch and social facilities on their wishlist, but they won't be getting money for that work under the new DCAL plans, much to the annoyance of chairman John Bird.

He said: "This puts us in a state of limbo. Championship clubs can apply, but we can't because while we are a Premiership club we aren't designated.

"We are bottom of the Premiership and by the time the funding comes out we could be in the Championship, but it would be too late to apply.

"Glentoran are being given £10m and it seems the big boys are getting the biggest amounts."

Dungannon too want to lay a 3g pitch at Stangmore Park and chairman Keith Boyd believes investment is needed for the future, rather than short-term plans.

"With a 3g pitch and a new club house we can open up to the entire community, make the club more sustainable and set us up for the next 20 years," said Boyd.

"I would ask why the money can't be split up between the 12 Premiership clubs and we all get £2m or £3m, rather than one getting £10m and some getting nothing."

What it really boils down to is the conflict between the IFA Facilities Strategy published in 2011 and another document put together by the Association in 2012.

DCAL are working off the 2011 paper, but the IFA will enter the consultation process using the later one.

The one major difference is that the £10m of funding allocated to Glentoran was recommended in 2011. In contrast, there was no specific club or venue mentioned in 2012 and the finer details also saw the designated venues issue erased.

DCAL Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has pledged to listen to feedback that is received between now and the end of the consultation process in mid-February before final decisions are made.

"I was aware that would be an issue before the consultation was launched, because between the designation of grounds and even for smaller clubs and the primacy rule, that issue has come up consistently," said the Minister.

"I have said to people that if they feel that this gap or confusion will disadvantage a group, geographical area or community, that needs to be said in the consultation. I believe not only that it should it be said but that it should be pointed out exactly how people will be disadvantaged."

Three Championship clubs - Ballyclare Comrades, Glebe Rangers and Larne - are eligible to apply with the Premiership clubs as they have designated venues.

Newry City, who were in the Premiership until 2011 before the club folded a year later, can apply too even though they are now in the Mid Ulster League.

MLA David Hilditch, a former chairman of Carrick Rangers, has asked for the issue to be clarified.

He said: "There is a bit of an anomaly whereby some Championship clubs are designated grounds and vice versa, some clubs in the Premiership are not designated grounds, which falls between the two.

"Who will make that call? There is something of a grey area in the middle."

Belfast Telegraph


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