The dream of a multi million pound cross community football stadium in North Belfast could be in jeopardy because of a football rule that could see a local club thrown out of the league.
Newington Football Club is in the middle of an appeals process with the National Amateur Football League (NAFL) who say the club cannot ground share with their North Belfast counterparts Crusaders.
Under NAFL regulations premier division clubs must have ‘total control of their ground and facilities’, ground sharing is allowed, but premier division clubs must have primacy or total control of their ground.
The primacy rule, which Newington YC believe is ‘outmoded’, could see them thrown out of the premier division of the amateur league and put the club’s future in doubt.
Last weekend’s opening round of NAFL Premier and Division 1A fixtures were postponed as a result of the uncertainty.
The club is hoping to ground share with Irish Premier League club Crusaders at their Seaview home. The Crues are also their partner in ambitious plans for a £25m cross community stadium on the North Foreshore that is expected to create around 1,000 jobs in the construction and running of the development. The plans would make North Belfast home to a 6000 seater stadium for the two clubs as well as training pitches, restaurant and corporate facilities.
The clubs have garnered the support of all North Belfast political parties who recently wrote to the IFA calling for the rule on ground sharing in the Amateur League’s Premier Division to be scrapped.
The club met with the Northern Amateur Football League’s appeals board for their appeal on Tuesday night and are awaiting the final decision.
Manager and vice chair of Newington Eamonn McCarthy said both his club and Crusaders have carried out a massive amount of joint cross community work and should not be penalised for bringing both communities together for a shared goal.
“We met with the appeals board on Tuesday night and are awaiting their final decision,” he said.
“Their rule basically states that you can’t be in the Premier Division of the Amateur League if you are not the primary club in your grounds, which basically means we can’t share grounds with Crusaders.
“Both clubs have been working together for a number of years and have done a massive amount of cross community work. As well as this we have the plans for the North Foreshore and the shared stadium that is a massive boost for North Belfast.
“We have had support from all the political parties in North Belfast and sports minister Carál Ní Chuilín has been in touch personally to see what she can do for us. We hope now that the board overturns this decision.”
A spokesman for the IFA said the decision on the appeal is expected later this week.
“The appeal by Newington YC against the NAFL was heard on Tuesday night by the Appeals Board,” he said.
“The Board adjourned to consider the issues raised, the Board hoped to be in a position to give its ruling by the end of this week.”