NIFL chief Gerard Lawlor outlines funding needed for football as he welcomes 'first step'

Photo showing NI Football League CEO Gerard Lawlor
-Credit: (Image: PressEye/Phil Magowan)

Gerard Lawlor has welcomed the long-overdue funding support for football in Northern Ireland, but insists there is "a lot of work to do". Communities Minister Gordon Lyons has announced a £36.2m package to improve facilities here, including grassroots football and a new National Training Centre.

It 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 will take £200m to address the total need for football here, including £120m for senior clubs in the NI Football League.

And while Wednesday's announcement is a fraction of that overall cost, Lawlor says it is a positive step in the right direction.

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He told Belfast Live: "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, but at least it is 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. And we have to be thankful for that.

"It has been frustrating. We have had so many false dawns, and various Ministers from all parties promised a lot but delivered nothing. This Minister (Lyons) has come in and delivered and we are happy with that. It is a good day for football."

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 from next April.

Clubs including Glentoran, Cliftonville and Coleraine are among the clubs needing investment to upgrade their facilities, but the cash injection will benefit football at all levels.

The NI Football League currently has 47 member clubs from the Premiership, Championship, Premier Intermediate League and Women's Premiership.

Lawlor said: "A figure of £200m has been mentioned for all football, but for the senior game here we are looking at £120m at today's prices. That is only going to rise. So that's a minimum, and that was a figure calculated six months ago. It is big money.

"We have to have faith in the department that more funding will be provided in the months and years to come. But we are competing with other departments including health, schools, arts, education. So it is up to the Minister and his staff. But I think he has been very strong in his words today and nailed his colours to the mast.

"Everything he said he would do so far, he has delivered on. So hopefully he will be true to his word.

"There is need all over the place. Some clubs will have more needs that others and need bigger sticking plasters to function. We have to work our way through that.

"All clubs will have to go through the same application processes. As the Minister said there are no done deals."

Despite having to wait 13 years to receive the first tranche of funding, Lawlor says Minister Lyons' announcement is "a good day" for football here.

He also said no decisions had been made on where the funding would be allocated.

He added: "It is a bright day for football. There is an open and transparent process. We will deal with the clubs with the biggest need first of all, and work through the football family.

"We have 47 football clubs in the NIFL family to work our way through and we are determined to work our way through that."

Lawlor also highlighted the positive impact football has on the community, from a financial and health and wellbeing perspective.

"For every £1 invested in football here, there is a social and economic return of £23. Football gives over £470m a year. I believe local football impacts one in 10 people in Northern Ireland," he said.

"So the impact it has on families is there. In their wellbeing, education, mindfulness. You can't put a price on the benefits.

"And having better facilities will bring more people to the game. So this is a win-win and hopefully it is just the beginning."

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