Larne FC will enter a “catastrophic downward spiral” if funding is not approved for Inver Park’s multi-million pound redevelopment.
The club’s Chief Executive Mervyn McKay issued the stark warning after a meeting with Communities Minister Paul Givan at the local ground last Thursday.
The Inver Park project, which already has planning permission, features an all-weather training facility covered by a dome, a 3G pitch and a new 1,100 seater stand.
Larne FC is seeking £3million from the Department for Communities’ Sub Regional Stadia Programme for Soccer for the UEFA-standard facility.
A consultation on how to progress the £36 million Sub Regional Stadia scheme, formerly administered by DCAL, closed in February, and the DoC says it is “anticipated that the programme will be launched and open for applications in the coming months.”
Speaking during a tour of Inver Park, Mr Givan said he was “impressed” by plans for the multi-million pound redevelopment of Inver Park by Larne FC, and that if the club secures funding for the project it could become “one of the big sporting aspects of East Antrim.”
“There’s no doubt Larne have very, very ambitious plans and a clear vision as to where they can take the club,” he stated.
“All funding applications are subject to a competitive process and criteria. The funding for soccer stadia is targeted at the sporting aspects.”
While Mr McKay said he had been “encouraged” by the meeting with Mr Givan, he also warned that the consequences of not securing the funding for the club would be dire.
“We can’t afford to sustain the club at this level due to the costs of maintaining the ground’s safety certificate as well as its daily running costs,” he stated.
“We have had benefactors and different people keeping this club going, but it’s not sustainable as a business.
“Larne has hit a brick wall, we have been struggling for the last five years and last year was hard.
“If we don’t receive funding for development our youth system will never progress and people will lose heart.”
However, Mr McKay says that a new stadium at Inver Park would boost both the club and the local community.
“The club has a major push to get into the premiership and a new ground and premiership football would attract a lot of people to Larne,” he continued.
“It’s something to aspire to and it would be a big morale booster.
“At the minute Larne FC has a youth system with 400 kids and we have the potential for 500 to 600 kids but there are no facilities to expand.
“There has been under investment for the last 20 years.
“As a development club we need major development for the youth and community as well as enterprise and networking opportunities for businesses and local groups.”
The plans for the ground also include a fitness, training and wellbeing centre, corporate meeting rooms, a bistro, and business units.
The new facilities would be opened up for use by local community and youth groups as well as schools.
“This is a big community venture for the whole town, and the whole town will benefit,” Mr McKay continued.
“Larne FC is a registered charity and we want to open the ground up to facilitate schools, including those with special needs such as Roddensvale.
“Belfast has lots of facilities but Larne has been left out in the cold for so long.”
DUP MP Sammy Wilson, who was also at the meeting, said he would be making the argument to the Minister that the development represented a “reasonable investment” to secure Larne FC’s future.
“Here is a club that is capable of competing at the highest level and is wanting to get involved with the community,” he stated.
“This Executive money was set aside a long time ago to be used on grounds across Northern Ireland and there is no doubt we would like to see it here.”
DUP MLA Gordon Lyons, who invited Mr Givan to Inver Park, described the minister’s private meeting with club officials as “very productive.”
“It was a good opportunity for the football club to outline their needs at the ground and the potential which exists for future development,” he stated.
“I want to make sure we have investment in Larne and that Larne is not left behind.”
A Department for Communities spokesperson said: “Officials are currently finalising their consideration and analysis of the responses to the Sub Regional Stadia Programme for Soccer consultation together with all other relevant information to inform recommendations on the way forward, including funding and criteria aspects of the programme.
“It is hoped that a decision on the programme going forward will be made shortly and it is anticipated that the programme will be launched and open for applications in the coming months. The process for allocation of funding will be fair, open and transparent and will be based on an evidenced based approach to the demonstration of need for investment. All award recommendations will be made based on eligibility and project assessment scores.”