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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

ANBCouncil approves £20k for cross-community training academy in association with Rangers FC

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has approved £20,000 funding for a good relations pilot scheme in association with Rangers Football Club.

Rangers already provides an “advanced” soccer centre at Allen Park in Antrim which involves around 100 young players on a weekly basis for those who are viewed as “having the ability to further develop their potential".

It is one of the club’s three soccer centres in Northern Ireland that work with children and teenagers, aged from six to 14 years. The others are based at Campbell College and Colin Glen, both in Belfast.

Players have the chance to progress from the “advanced centre” to Rangers’ youth teams. To date, 54 young players have proceeded to a club youth team from Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The Scottish Premier League club has indicated that engagement in the community is the biggest growth area for Rangers Soccer Academy Northern Ireland.

Good relations camps are also being delivered through the Executive Office (TEO). The club is reportedly reviewing extending these camps.

A report to Antrim and Newtownabbey councillors says: “Rangers representatives highlighted that they are open to working with key partners and they are keen to add to what they are already doing in the borough.

“The aim of the programme is to use the universal appeal of sport to providephysical activity, sports-based learning and support for participants.”

It is proposed to pilot a 12-week, cross-community scheme for 11 to 17-year-olds for 36 participants from across the borough.

Speaking at a meeting of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council on Monday evening, Antrim Ulster Unionist Councillor Jim Montgomery said: “In a borough that is doing superbly well in sport, this is an opportunity to develop further.”

He went on to say it was an opportunity “afforded to the community for sporting advancement”.

Glengormley Sinn Fein Cllr Michael Goodman noted council officers had met with Rangers officials on November 2.  He said on November 28, the item has been brought directly to a meeting of the local authority.

He pointed out that no economic appraisal or tender has been carried out whereas a request that he brought to an Operations Committee meeting more than 12 months ago for the installation of “ball walls”, urban sport walls, in the borough’s parks at a cost of £25,000 has had to undergo an economic appraisal.

Cllr Goodman said he did “not have a problem” with this but he asked for an explanation about what he described as the “disparity” over his proposal and this one which has come in front of the council in a matter of days.

Chief Executive Jacqui Dixon indicated that there was availability of good relations funding.

Cllr Goodman continued: “There needs to be some sort of distinction drawn as this is a proposal for £25,000. It is not a major capital project.”

He suggested there are “other avenues of funding that could have been looked at” adding he was “disappointed” the proposal he made has been “put on the long finger”.

Antrim DUP Cllr Paul Dunlop BEM said he would “happily second” the recommendation to approve £20k funding for a pilot good relations programme to be delivered by Rangers Football Club.

“I have seen for myself the good work Rangers do cross-community right across the country. It is something we as a council can tap into. I think it will be a win-win for us.”


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