Wakehurst forced to play outside Ballymena next season

WAKEHURST FC believe they will still be an 'Irish League' club next season – but they'll have to move out of Ballymena to ensure it.

The club is confident it will meet the criteria to play in the new-look IFA Championship – but they'll face a minimum 40 mile-round trip for HOME games!

Wakehurst's base at Showgrounds pitch two will not be deemed suitable for intermediate football next season - meaning they have had to seek a new home in order to compete at the highest level possible.

With IFA rules stating that ground-sharing arrangements must be for a minimum of three years, it means Wakehurst will play their home games at Moyola Park's newly-built stadium until 2012.

But there's an added complication in that the Castledawson club's ground won't be ready until part of the way into next season, meaning that in the short-term, Wakehurst will set up 'home' at Moyola's mid-Ulster neighbours Tobermore United.

The extraordinary scenario was outlined by Wakehurst chairman Ian Hunter at the club's annual dinner in Tullyglass House Hotel on Friday night.

"All our matches next season will be played outside the borough of Ballymena and I think that is a disgrace.

"It seems that everyone else can book the main arena at the Showgrounds except Wakehurst.

"It is going to cost us a lot of money for every game and we are hoping the Council may give us a grant to help us along the way.

"We would also like to think that within three years, we will be back in the borough," added Mr Hunter.

Wakehurst have led something of a nomadic existence since their formation 40 years ago, playing for many years on the Harryville pitches with which they share their name.

As the ambitious club progressed through the leagues, they played for a spell at Lamont Park, Smithfield, while in the Amateur League and since their elevation to the former second division of the Irish League in 2003, they have used the enclosed pitch two at the Showgrounds, which is also used as Ballymena United's training pitch.

But with a minimum seating requirement being part of the criteria to play in the Championship and no scope in which to build a stand, Wakehurst have had to reluctantly move away from Ballymena in order to continue to play at intermediate level.

Attempts to broker a ground-share arrangement with senior neighbours Ballymena United to use the main arena floundered as IFA rules state that no more than two teams can use any one pitch – in this instance, Ballymena United's senior and reserve sides. Had Ballymena agreed to such a proposal, it would have meant their reserve team finding itself in a similar predicament to that of Wakehurst currently.

Mayor of Ballymena, Councillor Maurice Mills, a guest at the dinner, said: "I hope that within three years, Wakehurst will be able to say they are back in Ballymena, playing on a pitch of which they can have pride."