Ex-Irish League stars behind 'groundbreaking partnership' between Belfast clubs

Photo shows Johnny Flynn and Stephen McAlorum
-Credit: (Image: Inpho)

Former Irish League stars Johnny Flynn and Stephen McAlorum have teamed up to launch a "groundbreaking partnership" between two West Belfast football clubs.

Anderstonstown Community FC and Belfast Celtic have announced a special merger which will offer young players a pathway into senior football.

It is hoped the initiative will present more opportunities for players and also become a focal point for the local community, fostering a "sense of camaraderie and teamwork".

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The clubs also aim to develop a 'community hub' where the young footballers can come together and socialise both on and off the field, providing a supportive and inclusive environment for "all players regardless of religion, race, gender or ability".

Belfast Celtic's facilities will also play a crucial role in the partnership, offering all players access to top training grounds and resources which will make the pathway to senior football more accessible and cost-effective for parents, ensuring that all players have the opportunity to "pursue their passion for the sport".

Former Cliftonville defender Flynn is currently a coach at Andersonstown Community FC, while ex-Glentoran captain McAlorum is first-team manager at Ballymena and Provincial League outfit Belfast Celtic.

The pair played together at Ballymena United, while current Sky Blues striker Johnny McMurray is also part of McAlorum's coaching staff at the Wee Hoops.

Flynn told Belfast Live: "It is an exciting partnership. Obviously Andersonstown have a junior set-up and Belfast Celtic have their senior set-up. Belfast Celtic are on their journey, and we are on ours, and I believe this partnership will benefit both clubs, on and off the pitch.

"There are plans for a community hub for both clubs to call home. We currently train at the Colin Glen Dome, and Belfast Celtic are based up on the Glen Road Heights. They have their own grass pitch, but they have plans for a new training facility.

"They only have a senior team at present, and we only have junior teams, so we can work together on future initiatives and developments, and it will save both clubs some money along the way.

"It opens up other opportunities. Yes, we are a football club, but we want to be more for the kids and community. We had a five-year plan to begin with to set up a junior section, now we need to find a home for our kids once they reach 15, 16, 17. Somewhere for them to move on to and take the next step in their careers.

"Kids eventually move on, and we love to see the players develop. And if they outgrow Andersonstown, I will help the kids find their next level. Belfast Celtic can offer senior football for many of the kids, so this partnership benefits both clubs.

"I played with Mackers (McAlorum) at Ballymena United. His wee lad plays for our club, so we had this conversation three or four years ago. At that time there was no need for it, because they wouldn't have benefitted from it. But now we have an U15 and U16 team, we now have players who can make the step to senior football.

"We might have a few players who could break into the Belfast Celtic team, so they can benefit that way. We have had to bide our time, and this was a long time coming.

"There is a lot in the pipeline, including the community hub, better facilities, somewhere for the kids to go after school. We want this to benefit the community, and somewhere both clubs can call home."

It was talks between old pals Flynn and McAlorum that sparked the idea of bringing the two clubs together. They played together at Ballymena United and have been friends for years.

"Literally four years ago we talked about it. So it isn't an overnight idea," Flynn said.

"Belfast Celtic are thriving in the community and trying to establish themselves in the Ballymena and Provincial League. Now we want to do something for West Belfast. And we would love for other clubs to join this partnership.

"West Belfast isn't a massive place. There are about 15 clubs from McKinstry Road to Divis. So that's 15 different entities and 15 different ideas. So maybe we can link up with other clubs and make it a better environment, instead of 'us versus them'.

"For example, if a club needs a training pitch ahead of a big game, let's try and help out. So we could develop a network.

"Not everyone will buy into it because they want to do things their own way. We have our own ideas and principles. But let's have those conversations and try to work together."

Come August, Andersonstown Community FC will have 29 teams playing on a Saturday, ranging from mini-soccer right up to Under 16 level.

"It is starting to get to the stage where we need a pathway for these kids. We need the next step on their journey, because not everyone will go on to play in the Irish League," Flynn added.

"This will provide another stage for these young players. And hopefully they then go on to become coaches at the club and give something back.

"We have ex-Irish League players at our club, and then you have the likes of Mackers and Johnny McMurray at Belfast Celtic. The idea is some of them will do coaching days with our young kids, passing on their expertise.

"We have launched the partnership this week, and next week we will have a Fun Day for the kids, with mini-matches, a barbecue and bouncy castles.

"This is the start of a long journey. It won't be an overnight thing. But the road ahead is very exciting."

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