Communities Minister lays out long-term funding vision for NI football

Photo shows Communities Minister Gordon Lyons speaking at Windsor Park on Wednesday
-Credit: (Image: Belfast Live)

Communities Minister Gordon Lyons says he will continue fighting for football in Northern Ireland after announcing a £36.2m financial package to improve facilities here. The long-overdue funding was confirmed on Wednesday at Windsor Park, which will also benefit grassroots football and progress a new National Training Centre.

The £36.2m figure is the same amount that was pledged back in 2011, but was continually delayed due to inaction and the collapse of power-sharing at Stormont. It is estimated that it would take £200m to address the total need for football here, including £120m for senior clubs in the NI Football League.

Minister Lyons hopes the initial investment is the start of "continuous support" for clubs and facilities here.

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He said: "It was important to get this money out because it has been there for so long. We have waited for 13 years for this to move forward.

"£200m is the estimated total need for football here. I don't see this as putting a figure on it. I want this to be a constant flow of investment to football. We have £36.2m which we can get out which is good. That's a positive. I hope by that stage there will be additional funding available.

"But even if we had £200m available we wouldn't be in a position to spend it due to clubs not being ready and the infrastructure not being there. But let's make a start."

He added: "I hope there will be a continuous flow of investment there to meet the need we have. I want to keep this going so that all clubs get the facilities they want.

"I will be making the case for more money. I have made the case to the UK government about the need that exists in football. I will continue to do that. There are competing priorities from education and health and all the rest of it. But the way I see it, I see investment in football as also an investment in health.

"We are investing in the future."

The newly titled Northern Ireland Football Fund - previously known as the Sub-Regional Stadia Funding programme - will be phased out across three strands. Applications will open this financial year with clubs expected to receive grants in 2025/26.

NI Football League CEO Gerard Lawlor said: "A lot of work has gone into getting us here. We have got to be pleased we have got to this point, but we realise there is a lot of work to do. This is just the start of a journey. We have waited for the train to arrive for the last 13 years, we are now on the train and it is about to leave."

Irish FA President Conrad Kirkwood added: “This is positive news. After a long wait we can finally see some progress which will help football, at all levels, across Northern Ireland.

“We have stated continuously that the £36m set aside is not enough. But it is a start and, as the game’s governing body here, this is something we welcome."

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