DEPUTY Mayor Cllr. Matthew Armstrong says he hopes attention will finally turn to the delivery of sub-regional stadia funding.
Speaking at the recent Ballymena Saturday Morning League dinner and prize night he pointed out this is vital - not only to clubs and communities in Mid and East Antrim - but right across Northern Ireland.
The Deputy Mayor reminded everyone that the Casement Park redevelopment had moved a step forward despite spiraling construction costs, adding that the shortfall could still be met.
“It is therefore crucial for our game that we receive both equality of investment and equality of opportunity by central government,” said Cllr. Armstrong.
“The potential offered through sub-regional stadia funding is immense in terms of the future of football, and in turn the potential benefit for our local people.”
He said it is several years since the Executive allocated £36m for the sub-regional stadia funding programme, pointing out that clubs stand ready to get to work and deliver on it, developing the infrastructure for the benefit of all.
Cllr. Armstrong, at one of his last engagements as Deputy Mayor, outlined that Mid and East Antrim is home to three senior clubs - Ballymena United, Larne and Carrick Rangers - and also has teams competing at Intermediate level and 34 Junior clubs, providing football coaching, training and games for more than 1,000 adult players on a weekly basis.
He mentioned the four women/girls teams, with three attached to the senior clubs and one at Greenisland FC.
Cllr. Armstrong said a number of local clubs are involved in providing football for those with disabilities as well as 10 youth football clubs, in the local area, affiliated to clubs from junior/senior level facilitating 164 youth teams and 2,333 youth footballers for training and games.
All this is supported by a club workforce of 830 volunteers and an average of 5370 spectators on a weekly basis.
“We want to support them and help lay the foundations for future generations of footballer in Mid and East Antrim,” said the Deputy Mayor.
Since 2015 Council has invested more that £100,000 across the Borough to supply training equipment coaching qualifications holiday camps, first aid equipment and walking football.
Cllr. Armstrong thanked all the sponsors, giving particular mention to main backer, firmus energy.
He said football’s contribution to good community relations has not gone unnoticed, adding that it plays an important part in both physical and mental well being.
The Deputy Mayor said a big thank you to all the club officials, coaches, fund raisers, supporters tea makers, and all others involved for their valuable input.
“We at Mid and East Antrim Borough Council commend the work that Ballymena Saturday Morning League Committee for the work they do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis to maintain the high standards the League has set since a ball was first kicked in 1969,” he said.
Meanwhile, League Chairman David King missed out in attending the dinner for the first time in its history!
He is having to isolate before having a knee operation in Dublin.
But Vice-Chairman John Stewart stood in and read a message which David had sent.
Main item was major thanks to every sponsor, saying they are the lifeblood of the League.
He also had special mention of his League side-kick Brian Montgomery for all the work he, and his son Joe, do.
Ballymena United Chairman John Taggart and club secretary John Torrington attended the night.
Mr. Taggart presented the League with a cheque.
He said it was great to see a crowded room of footballers enjoying a night out - after Covid had wiped out such an occasion in the past couple of years.
Robert Fenton, representing the Ballymena and Provincial League, said they have a close affinity with the SML.
He said while players and clubs are the heartbeat of the League it is people like Brian Montgomery who provide the oxygen to keep things going.
Without such people, he continued, the League would not exist.
Brian Montgomery, of SML, paid tribute to Harryville Homers who were celebrating their 50th anniversary.
He thanked all the sponsors, without whom the League could not exist.
Brian revealed that the League’s oldest Cup - the Ace Cup - played for since 1979, is being retired!
A new Cup will be put up in its place.
The League look set to welcome three new teams in the new season.
Billy O’Flaherty thanked the League for presenting him with a Merit Award for his input to the BSML.