The Dairy Council has ended its sponsorship of one of Northern Ireland’s showpiece sporting events.
The Milk Cup youth football competition on the North Coast attracted teams from across the planet. Manchester United gave the world one of its first glimpses of David Beckham in the 1991 tournament.
The Dairy Council’s chief executive Mike Johnston said the step followed a review of its 30-year involvement with the annual event. The organisation will concentrate on promoting products like cheese and butter.
“This was not an easy decision for us but no sponsorship is permanent,” he said.
He added the Council has a limited budget and money had to be shifted from supporting the Milk Cup to allow a greater focus on other products.
Competition spokesman Jim Sandford said the Coleraine-based event would continue next year but not under the Milk Cup banner.
“Plans for next year are already at an advanced stage, the future of the tournament is not in doubt. A new sponsorship deal will be announced in the future,” he pledged.
It was an experiment at the beginning in 1983 with eight local teams and an equal number of visitors including an outfit from Algeria and a side from Coleraine’s twin town of la Roche-sur-Yon in France.
Mr Johnston said: “At a time when Northern Ireland was in the grip of a dark period in its history, and amidst negative publicity in the international media, it will always be a testament to the tournament that teams from all over the world were prepared to come to Northern Ireland.”
A galaxy of promising stars has since graced pitches at the competition, representing clubs from Canada, the US, Brazil, Chile, Iceland and the former Soviet Union.
They attract a welcoming crowd of several thousand every year who line the streets as they parade through the Bannside town.
In 1991 a United team bursting with talent including Beckham, Nicky Butt, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Robbie Savage took top honours, beating Liverpool 4-1 in the quarter-final. Keith Gillespie scored three and Beckham a penalty. Robbie Fowler was included in the Anfield club’s line up that day in Portstewart.
In 1988 future Liverpool and England star Steve McManaman helped the Merseysiders triumph. He went on to became the first British player to win the UEFA Champions League title twice. Republic of Ireland international and coach Steve Staunton played for Dundalk Schoolboys in 1984, his full potential later realised during his country’s stellar performance in the Italian World Cup of 1990.
Liverpool’s Bob Paisley was among managerial greats to visit. The ceiling of Paisley’s Portrush hotel reportedly collapsed, provoking one of many memories associated with the tournament.
Ryan Giggs and Nicky Barmby are among others who performed. Eight of the England squad at the last World Cup finals in South Africa took part in the Milk Cup, including Wayne Rooney with Everton and Joe Cole and Michael Carrick with West Ham and Peter Crouch with Spurs.
By that stage the competition had expanded from Coleraine to neighbouring areas, Castlerock, Broughshane, Portstewart and Ballymena among the venues.
Mr Johnston said the Dairy Council, which promotes consumption of its products, had reviewed its activities.
“The Milk Cup has been a hugely important and successful sponsorship for the Dairy Council since we became involved 30 years ago but the market has evolved and we need to ensure that our activities meet the needs of the Northern Ireland dairy industry.”