Three local Irish Premiership football teams have joined forces with Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to launch the ‘MEA United’ campaign, aimed at securing “game-changing” Northern Ireland Executive funding for their respective stadia in Ballymena, Carrickfergus and Larne.
A taskforce, formed by Council and spearheaded by its Chief Executive Anne Donaghy, is supporting Ballymena United, Carrick Rangers and Larne F.C. in their collective vision to transform the Ballymena Showgrounds, Taylors Avenue in Carrickfergus and Inver Park in Larne.
In 2015, the Northern Ireland Executive allocated £36m for a sub-regional stadia funding programme for local football.
Following the return of power-sharing at Stormont in January this year, the Executive stated its intention to complete the programme, which includes plans to upgrade Irish League venues as well as the GAA stadium Casement Park in Belfast.
Irish Premiership clubs that are capable of hosting fixtures with a 5,000 capacity are eligible to apply for funding, with Ballymena United, Carrick Rangers and Larne F.C. all meeting the criteria.
Alderman William McNeilly, Chair of MEABC’s Direct Services Committee, praised the combined efforts and joined-up approach of each of the football clubs.
He added: “Despite being rivals on the football pitch, it is hugely encouraging to see them come together and work collaboratively in this way with Council for the wider good of all in Mid and East Antrim.
“Improving the stadia facilities of the three clubs is an exciting prospect that would no doubt drive a positive change across the borough, raising the standard of sporting events in these individual towns for generations to come.
“This significant investment would be a timely and welcome boost to our local clubs and communities, particularly given the renovation works that have already been carried out at local venues already, as well as the investment that the Irish Premiership as a whole has enjoyed in recent years.”
Following the purchase of Inver Park by Larne F.C. in 2018, the club invested in the installation of a new 4g playing surface and state-of-the-art floodlights. Furthermore, last year the pitch at The Ballymena Showgrounds was revamped ahead of Ballymena United’s Europa League clash.
Finally, since the Irish League was suspended in March, there has been significant investment at Taylors Avenue where Carrick Rangers have made a number of improvements to enhance spectator safety at their ground.