Clive Nesbitt

Reporter:

Clive Nesbitt

Email:

clive@alphanewspapers.co.uk

BALLYMENA Showgrounds is one of the Irish Football Association’s preferred stadia for hosting elite competitions.

This plaudit is a major plus for Mid and East Antrim Council.

A couple of weeks ago Guardian Sport reported that the UEFA European Under-19 tournament was back on at the venue!

Originally it had been down to take place this week and next - but that was before the dreaded coronavisus pandemic struck.

But the tournament is back on again this October/November.

The Showgrounds will be one of the venues used during the teen European event.

Mid and East Antrim Council said the European Under-19 tournament is “a great opportunity for the Showgroundss.”

They say they will manage everything to ensure it does not conflict with any other fixtures.

A spokesperson said the tournament fixtures will also be facilitated within the Showgrounds calendar and within existing Council staffing.

And he continued - ‘The IFA are very impressed with the Ballymena Showgrounds and have confirmed, now that Council have been successful in securing them, that Ballymena Showgrounds is one of their preferred stadia.

‘On that basis they are now going to use Ballymena Stadium for applications for other European Tournaments.’

Two New Showgrounds stands

Meanwhile, Sky Blues fan Tommy Nicholl has highlighted again his dream of having two new stands built behind the goals at the Showgrounds!

The Cullybackey Councillor has long campaigned for this dream to become a reality.

At the recent meeting of Mid and East Antrim Council the subject was discussed.

Cllr. Nicholl asked for an update on the progress of the feasibility study into the stands being developed behind both goals at the Showgrounds.

“I have always argued that this development is crucial on our part, we want to attract more and larger games to the Borough, and, more importantly, this will also increase the atmosphere within the ground,” he told the meeting.

“We have a great facility, which has been commended by other teams, IFA and by UEFA. Let’s have a vision to improve, move forward and build for the future.”

The long serving Councillor, whose beloved Liverpool FC certainly brightened up what has been a bleak few months duo to the coronavirus, by being crowned English Premiership champions, outlined that with Ballymena Raceway now defunct, and Council agreeing to split the funds set aside for stadia improvements, he would like an update.

* The UEFA European Under-19 tournament will feature eight teams.

At the original launch Irish Football Association President David Martin said it was a great honour for them to host Europe’s largest youth football tournament featuring national teams.

Rising stars of European football will play at the 16 match, 14 day event.

The venues for the games will be Ballymena Showgrounds, the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park in Belfast, Lurgan’s Mourneview Park and Shamrock Park in Portadown.

Special guests at last year’s launch included UEFA Ambassador Glen Johnson, the former England, Liverpool and Portsmouth player, Northern Ireland senior men’s team manager Michael O’Neill and Northern Ireland U19 manager Stephen Frail.

Back at the end of August last year Guardian Sport first reported that the UEFA European U-19s were coming to the Province.

Mid and East Antrim Council, owners of the Showgrounds, confirmed that the main arena pitch will be ready for football once the green light is given for matches to recommence for Ballymena United.

Council said that - ‘Pending the restart of the NI Football league the first football matches planned to be played at Ballymena Showgrounds will be the Under 19 European tournament which has been rescheduled for later this year.’

Council continued -‘Prestigious events like this offer a welcome boost across Mid and East Antrim following the pandemic.

‘It will allow locals and visitors the opportunity to rediscover the borough where they enjoy the wonderful hospitality alongside our premier sporting venues.’

And Council has given the main arena its usual end of season maintenance. This includes sand dressing, seeding and fertiliser. “It will continue to be maintained to a high standard for when play resumes,” said a Council spokesman.

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