Castlederg in North Tyrone is the envy of the Province ahead of this year’s Milk Cup tournament.
The boys from Manchester United will be visiting Darragh Park next month when Tyrone host the Premier League giants on the opening day of the competition.
In what is one of the highlights of this year’s milestone 30th anniversary staging of what is now a global event on the football calendar, all the county teams will host their opening group games in their own areas.
It ties in with the 21st year of county teams participating in the competition and it is an initiative which is welcomed by Tourism Minister, Arlene Foster, who hosted a reception for the Northern Ireland Milk Cup to mark its 30th birthday.
“With 120 games spread over the week at 20 venues in all six county areas, the Milk Cup helps give Northern Ireland positive profile. The tournament also adds to our portfolio of events, giving tourists an enhanced choice of things to do.
“The Milk Cup has become a hugely successful event for local football, the local economy, tourism, sport and international relations,” said Minister Foster as she addressed a large crowd which included Northern Ireland manager, Michael O’Neill and vice-president of FIFA, Jim Boyce.
“Last year approximately 60,000 visitors attended the Milk Cup and it is estimated the total visitor spend was in the region of £1.6 million.
“From humble beginnings in 1983, with eight local teams and eight visiting teams, this year’s tournament will host up to 49 teams, with representation from all six FIFA Confederations – the whole of the football family.”
The tournament runs from July 21 to 26 and representatives of Omagh and Strabane councils last night said they were excited about hosting the tournament.
Errol Thompson, the newly elected chairman of Omagh District Council, said it was fantastic for West Tyrone to have Manchester United coming to play Tyrone in the Premier Event in Castlederg and also, within the Omagh district, Ipswich playing in the junior competition at Mountjoy, just outside the town.
“It gives the local people a chance to see this wonderful tournament on their doorsteps.”
Alan Bresland, a member of Strabane District Council, said he knew there had been a great buzz in the area since it was confirmed Manchester United were coming to Castlederg.
“There are a lot of Man Utd fans who will be eager to see the potential stars of the future and it is also tremendous for our local players to get the opportunity to put themselves up against the young players from one of the top Premier clubs in England.”
Two other attendees last night who will share in the 30th birthday celebrations with the Milk Cup are Victor Leonard, who has been chairman since the inception of the tournament and the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland, known as the Milk Marketing Board back in the early days of the event.
Leonard said there were many people who deserved credit for the continuing success of the tournament.
“We are looking forward to the event and welcoming the teams from across the world to not just the regular host venues, but also to the other council areas which will be staging the opening games. It promises to be one of our best tournaments yet.”