Larne, Carrick and Ballymena launch football ‘blueprint’

A ‘blueprint for senior football’ has been launched for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council(MEABC) area.

Wednesday, 31st March 2021, 1:20 pm

Last year, NIFL Premiership clubs Ballymena United, Carrick Rangers and Larne FC joined forces with the council to form MEA United in a bid to secure £25million from the Department for Communities for the development of stadia.

The blueprint announcement follows a recent virtual meeting between the three clubs, stakeholders and the MEA United elected member working group.

Having consulted with figures in the community as well as some of the borough’s major business players, the group has drafted a strategy and action plan.

The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor Peter Johnston and Anne Donaghy OBE, council's chief executive, launching the MEA United strategy. Watching in are other members of the task force.

The key objectives include bringing football grounds Inver Park in Larne and Taylor’s Avenue in Carrickfergus up to UEFA Category 3 and IFA Regional Hub status, as well as establishing a coach education programme for all three clubs.

The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor Peter Johnston, praised the collaborative approach of council, clubs and community in creating the MEA United Strategy document.

He said: “Football has a hugely positive knock-on effect in ensuring active and healthy lifestyles as well as enhancing community engagement and participation.

“I am delighted to see the launch of the MEA United Strategy and the joint efforts of Council, Ballymena United, Carrick Rangers FC and Larne FC in working together to secure game changing funding for the future of football in our borough. We are leading the way, through MEA United, for other council areas across Northern Ireland, in championing sport, health and wellbeing for our people.”

Anne Donaghy, MEABC chief executive, has previously called for the Northern Ireland Executive to take urgent action to tackle years of under investment in grounds, and for ministers to give a commitment that money will be ring-fenced for safety and improvement works on football stadia.

Cllr Gregg McKeen, who is a member of the working group, said: “We believe that there is a huge opportunity here in Mid and East Antrim to capitalise on this crucial investment which will significantly improve sporting facilities in the borough, bringing them to a higher standard, both in terms of health and safety and overall professionalism within Irish League football.

“The stadia funding will make a huge contribution to both individual and wider community health and wellbeing, and I continue to be extremely encouraged by the ongoing engagement between MEA United, key representatives within the community as well as local business leaders, which is helping to drive this project towards fruition.

“This is a very important document and I thank council, the clubs, and communities for all their work to date. With our clubs all working together, we have been able to produce a fantastic and exciting vision for moving football to the next level for generations to come.”

Councillor Keith Turner, who sits on the group too, commented: “The contribution that football and sport in general makes to our community cannot be underestimated, and to be involved in such a critical and innovative campaign to create healthier futures and opportunities for all is a genuine privilege.”

The document also covers the key aim of developing a national training centre for girls’ and women’s football at Ballymena Showgrounds, as well as making the stadium a home venue for senior and under-age international fixtures.

Councillor Matthew Armstrong added: “I commend all those, from across council, clubs, community and business leaders, who have helped us reach this significant milestone in our bid for game changing funding for our local footballing facilities.”

MEA United includes Alderman Tommy Nicholl MBE, Cllr Matthew Armstrong, Cllr Gregg McKeen, Cllr Keith Turner, Ald Noel Williams and Cllr Marc Collins. It is jointly led by Anne Donaghy, John Taggart (Ballymena United), Peter Clarke (Carrick Rangers FC) and Gareth Clements (Larne FC).

In a joint statement, the three club representatives said: “MEA United will continue to drive forward our aims for Mid and East Antrim to become a major footballing hub in Northern Ireland and to champion the inter-connectedness of community and sport throughout our society, now and in the future.

“Through the power of football, we can collectively work towards improved mental health and wellbeing in Mid and East Antrim, and by improving our clubs’ facilities, we can make a huge, long-lasting impact on society generally, as well as helping to bring economic advantage to the area.”

Click here to read: Mid and East Antrim clubs warn ‘football cannot be treated like the poor relation’

--

Thank you for reading this article. We’re more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers. Please consider purchasing a copy of the paper. You can also support trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription of the News Letter.