IRISH LEAGUE: ‘Catastrophe’ for Larne FC without £3m boost

Pictured at Inver Park are (L-R) MP Sammy Wilson, MLA Gordon Lyons, Communities Minister Paul Givan, Chief Executive of Larne Mervyn McKay, Cllr Angela Smyth and MLA David Hilditch.
Pictured at Inver Park are (L-R) MP Sammy Wilson, MLA Gordon Lyons, Communities Minister Paul Givan, Chief Executive of Larne Mervyn McKay, Cllr Angela Smyth and MLA David Hilditch.

Larne Football Club will enter a ‘catastrophic downward spiral’ if funding is not approved for Inver Park’s multi-million pound redevelopment.

That’s the stark warning issued by the club’s chief executive Mervyn McKay after a meeting with Communities Minister Paul Givan at the ground.

The Inver Park project, which already has planning permission, features an all-weather training facility covered by a dome, a 3G pitch and a new 1,100-seater stand. Plans also include a fitness, training and wellbeing centre, corporate meeting rooms, a bistro, and business units.

The Championship club is seeking £3m from the Department for Communities’ Sub Regional Stadia Programme for Soccer for the UEFA-standard facility.

A consultation on how to progress the £36m Sub Regional Stadia scheme, formerly administered by DCAL, closed in February, and the DoC says it is “anticipated that the programme will be launched and open for applications in the coming months.”

Speaking during a tour of Inver Park, Mr Givan said he was ‘impressed’ by plans for the multi-million pound redevelopment of Inver Park, and that if the club secures funding for the project it could become “one of the big sporting aspects of East Antrim.”

“There’s no doubt Larne have very, very ambitious plans and a clear vision as to where they can take the club,” he stated. “All funding applications are subject to a competitive process and criteria.

“The funding for soccer stadia is targeted at the sporting aspects.”

However, speaking in the Assembly on Monday, Mr Givan sounded a note of caution over the funding.

“Based purely on the small number of visits that I have made, I do not think that the pot of money - £36m -is going to meet the demand that there is,” he stated.

While Mr McKay said he had been “encouraged” by the meeting with Mr Givan, he also warned that the consequences of not securing the funding for the club would be dire.

“We can’t afford to sustain the club at this level due to the costs of maintaining the ground’s safety certificate as well as its daily running costs,” he said.

“We have had benefactors and different people keeping this club going, but it’s not sustainable as a business.

“Larne has hit a brick wall, we have been struggling for the last five years and last year was hard.

“If we don’t receive funding for development our youth system will never progress and people will lose heart.”

A Department for Communities spokesperson said: “It is hoped that a decision on the programme going forward will be made shortly and it is anticipated that the programme will be launched and open for applications in the coming months. The process for allocation of funding will be fair, open and transparent and will be based on an evidenced based approach to the demonstration of need for investment. All award recommendations will be made based on eligibility and project assessment scores.”