‘Arsonists won’t defeat this team’

By Ciara Quinn

THE Secretary of a West Belfast football team whose clubhouse was gutted in a deliberately-started Saint Stephen’s Day blaze has defiantly told the arsonists: “We won’t be beaten by this.”

John Morgan, a founding member of Glen Road’s Sport and Leisure Swifts, said the team and committee have been inundated with messages of support and offers of assistance from other football teams, the community and local political representatives to help rebuild the club.

John this week told the Andersonstown News that the level of devastation to the clubhouse, which has been serving the team for 10 years, “speaks for itself”.

“I had just come home when I got the call round 9pm that someone noticed a fire at the club,” he said. “We are not actually that visible from the road and when we got up the PSNI and Fire Brigade were already there, but the damage had been done. We stayed at the ground until around 2.30am.

“Whoever was behind this came to do what they wanted to do. They went round the back of the premises and chipped the grill out of the back window to gain access to the home changing rooms.

 

Wrecked

“Anywhere they didn’t burn was wrecked as they took hammers to the disabled toilets and all the sinks. They set fire to the committee room by piling all the chairs together, the referee’s room and the main electric room were also set on fire. All the shower heads in the home and away changing rooms were broken so the idea was to set a fire and flood the place.”

As well as the destruction caused to the property, ‘IBA’ graffiti was daubed on the clubhouse walls.

John said that the perpetrators had clearly climbed over the perimeter fence to get to the clubhouse as firefighters had to use bolt-cutters to remove the gate padlock and gain access to the burning building.

“What happened on St Stephen’s Day was just a case of pure wanton destruction, a hatred of having something, and I was absolutely gobsmacked when I saw the damage that was done.”

John said that the Swifts, who play in Football League Championship Two, had been trying to get a 4G pitch installed. “We had West Belfast MP Paul Maskey up at the ground and he described it as a ‘gem in the West of the city’. It’s devastating that someone would start a fire and not worry about the consequences.”

As the New Year and 2015 fixtures approach, John said that the team are working on finding a ground share. “We have home games on January 3 and 10 and by the tenth we have to have something done. We’ve had four offers already from the football community to share their ground, we’ve had offers from joiners and electricians to rebuild and a boxing club from Scotland has donated £100 to us.

“The committee met on Sunday to decide do we go on or not? We decided we weren’t going to be beaten by this, we are in genuine need of support and offers of help are all greatly welcomed to get us back on our feet.”

Local Sinn Féin Councillor Emma Groves said she had been in contact with club officials in the wake of the attack.

“We have visited Sport and Leisure numerous times this year and were extremely impressed with the first class facilities that team had built, they have done it all through their own hard work and backbone,” she said. “They club have our support and that of the community and we will do all we can to help with the rebuild.”

SDLP Councillor Tim Attwood condemned the attack and offered his support.

“This is an outrageous attack of vandalism on a wonderful soccer club who have made extraordinary efforts to develop excellent opportunities for soccer at the highest standards in West Belfast. The club has major development plans which have been progressing well. These developments will not only benefit the club but the wider community on the Glen Road.

“Although this arson attack is shocking, I am certain that the dedicated officials, players and supporters will come back stronger than ever. Like the wider community I will do everything I can do to help the club in this difficult time.”

Detective Sergeant Melanie McGrory said: “We are working to establish exactly how the fire started but believe it to have been started deliberately at this stage and are appealing for anyone who noticed any suspicious activity in the area of the club to contact detectives in Woodbourne on 101.”

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