A LOCAL youth football team has made an impassioned plea to Coleraine Borough Council to resolve a situation which could threaten their very existence.
Portrush Youths Football Club, which has over 100 kids on its books, is facing the very real posibility of haing to call time on their club due to a row over training facilities.
The club, formed three years ago, want to be able to train once a week on a pitch at Parker Avenue in the seaside resort.
But Council officials have told them this contravenes policy with regards training on a football pitch used by a league club, namely Portrush FC and their reserve team.
Leisure Sevices chiefs told club officials that allowing them to train on the pitch could lead to the surface being damaged. It was suggested they use the grass area outside the pitch.
However the club’s coaches stress that this is unsuitable due to the large number of children in attendance and the fact there is a road running alongside the area. There is now a stalemate.
Portrush Youths held a public meeting in the town last week with over 50 concerned parents, residents, local councillors and club members in attendance.
They are due to make a presentation to Council next month in a last gasp bid to reverse the decision. But committee member Jim Blee told Times Sport if the decision is not overturned the club could be forced to blow the final whistle - leaving the local kids kicking their heels in frustration.
“If we are not allowed to continue to train on the pitch at Parker Avenue it could force us to close the club as there is simply no other adequate training facilities in the town,” Jim told Times Sport.
“That means 100 local kids aged from seven to 12 having their club taken away from them.
“All the talk in the summer was about an Olympic legacy and encouraging kids to get involved in sport, yet here we have a situation were kids could be forced out of sport because there are no facilities.
“I know people may say we have been offered an alternative but the area outside the pitch is not suitable. For a start it is beside the road and we would have concerns for the kids safety because of this.
“It is also very rough and and there could be dog foul or glass strewn on it, so again we wouldn’t ask the kids in our care to train on it.
“Other suggestions have included splitting up the different age groups to different nights, but this wouldn’t suit us either as our coaches are all voluntary and we couldn’t ask them to come out three or four different nights a week.
“People like Jason Quigley and the other coaches have worked so hard over the last couple of years to build this club up. We now have four teams at U8, U9, U10 and U12 but for how much longer we will be here I just don’t know.”
Jim told Times Sport he asked Council representatives about this policy of no training on league pitches.
“Council told us this was policy, but like any policy there must be room to change it,” said Jim.
“We just want to see where it is written down and plead with them to amend it. They have concerns about the kids damaging the pitch, but I just don’t see how this would happen.
“I have done research into this and I have found that groundsmen say a pitch can take at least 300 hours of use in a season. I calculated that last season Parker Avenue was only used 142, which is less than half that amount.
“At a meeting with Leisure Services last month we told them we would only use the area from 18 yard box to 18 yard box and that it would only be used by all the under 11 kids.
“Again though this proposal was shot down even though these are small kids and the likelihood of them cutting up the pitch would be minimal.
“The crazy thing is I could go in and book a match for a Wednesday evening between two adult teams who would do more damage to it, yet we are not allowed to use it for training.
“We trained on the pitch last season and Portrush FC hadn’t one game postponed all season, which shows how much damage the kids did.
“Representatives of Portrush FC were at our meeting last Thursday night and they are fully behind us. They told us they have no issue with the kids training on the pitch.
“So here we have a council facility which is being seriously under utilised with it only being used for two hours a week.
“We were also paying £30 a week for use of the pitch so over the course of the season that’s around £1200 being taken out of the public purse if we are forced out. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Jim hopes that with the backing of the public and local councillors common sense will prevail.
“I understand Council’s fears and I realise they probably don’t want to open the floodgates, but we are left in the position that this is our only viable training pitch,” he said.
“Hopefully common sense will come out on top and we will be given the go ahead, otherwise the future of the club doesn’t look too bright.
“There are a lot of pitches around the borough which aren’t utilised enough during the week. Who knows maybe the council could come up with a policy allowing kids under-11 to use these pitches to train on?
“Not only would it be helping the local clubs with training facilities but it would also generate extra revenue for Council.”
STORY: Steven Crawford