Town rallies behind Ballymena United as Sky Blues bid for Irish Cup glory
A Ballymena United victory in Friday night's Irish Cup Final showdown would provide a huge boost to football right across Mid and East Antrim, a lifelong Sky Blues supporting councillor has said.
The Warden Street club's showpiece clash with Glentoran has created a real buzz throughout the town as the team bids to lift the trophy for the first time in more than 30 years.
United sealed their place in the final thanks to victory over rivals Coleraine earlier this week.
The Irish Cup Final is set to be the first football match played in front of spectators in the UK since March.
Restrictions imposed to combat the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic led to a suspension of action and when games resumed they were behind closed doors.
Ballymena and Glentoran have both been allocated 250 tickets for the match at the National Stadium at Windsor Park.
Facilitated by Council, the club has also arranged a drive-in screening of the game at Ballymena Showgrounds, with the match also broadcast live on the BBC.
Mid and East Antrim councillor Matthew Armstrong, who is an ardent Ballymena fan and member of the club’s committee, said United’s cup success was brilliant news for the town and borough.
He said: “In the current times we all need a bit of a lift and something to look forward to, and for Ballymena fans you couldn’t ask for much more than an Irish Cup Final.
“Football in Ballymena, and indeed Larne and Carrickfergus, is well and truly on the up and I think it is fair to say we are gaining a proud reputation as a hotbed for local talent.
“This week we saw two local teams in Harryville Homers and Ahoghill Thistle contest the County Antrim Junior Shield Final, which was a brilliant advert for the sport in Mid and East Antrim.
“Now all the focus will be on Ballymena United and it’s been wonderful to see the huge level of support building within the community throughout the week.
“All three of our major clubs are to be commended for the progress they have made in recent years, both on and off the pitch.
“Our teams are much more than sports clubs. They have become integral to our local communities and real hubs of activity for a wide range of age groups and abilities.
“Unfortunately, due to the health crisis we are currently in, the number of supporters who will be in attendance at the final has been restricted, but the players and staff know they have the full backing of the fans as they step onto the pitch on Friday evening.
“Credit to Ballymena United for laying on a drive-in screening of the game and I thank the Council for agreeing to facilitate this. There are a limited number of spaces left for the drive-in, and anybody who wishes to buy a ticket for just £3 can find out more through the club’s social media channels.”
Meanwhile, the pitch at Ballymena Showgrounds will be ready for football straight away once home matches recommence for Ballymena United.
Extensive works carried out on the Showgrounds previously resulted in the venue achieving a UEFA licence.