Tensions between Ballymena United Football Club and Ballymena Raceway have “come to a head” amid proposals to extend the pitch to meet UEFA standards, according to a council report.
The issue was discussed at a council meeting in the Braid on Monday January 9, when councillors were told that should Ballymena United qualify for Europe the ground would need to be “compliant with UEFA standards in order to host a home game.”
However, they were also warned that the extension of the pitch to a minimum of “may not be possible without encroaching onto the width of the track.”
The council is hoping to extend the length of the pitch to a minimum of 100etres in April or May.
In addition, the IFA have confirmed that they will useBallymena Showgrounds in August for an eight-team international tournament, with the top teams qualifying for the Ladies’ Under 20 World Cup in France in 2018.
Councillors were also told that the Department of Communities is about to release a “major funding initiative for the upgrade and development of football pitches throughout the Province.”
In 2007, Ballymena Borough Council entered into a revised lease agreement with Ballymena Raceway that entitled the Raceway to not more than 20 race meetings per year.
The legacy council also signed a lease with Ballymena United in 2010, agreeing that the Showgrounds would be the club’s home ground.
The Council has agreed to appoint independent consultants CONSARC to determine how best to accommodate the two sporting clubs “should this be possible.”
UUP Councillor Stephen Nicholl said council wouldn’t be able to “meet everyone’s needs with the constraints.”
“You won’t squeeze two square pegs into a round hole,” he warned.
Cllr Nicholl also asked if the council’s desire to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup games at the Showgrounds, should Ireland’s bid prove successful, be included in the consultation.
SDLP Councillor Declan O’Loan said that the “quite clear direction to go is extending the pitch” and said the Racebway was “incompatible” with the plan.
“The people involved in the Raceway are members of the community but the issue of the Raceway has been very sore in that part of Ballymena for many years,” he continued.
Cllr O’Loan called for the needs of the Raceway to be provided for “at a different place” which “doesn’t impact as much on a built-up residential environment.
“Many people are deeply frustrated,” he stated.
Chief Executive Ann Donaghy said that the council was “trying to accomodate the Raceway and Ballymena United.”
In response to a question from DUP Councillor Billy Henry, Mrs Donaghy said she didn’t know when the contracts with the groups ended but that they were “long term.”
TUV Councillor Timothy Gaston added: “Hopefully Ballymena will qualify for Europe but the Rugby World Cup and different organisations potentially coming we need to look at increasing capacity.”
Councillors unanimously agreed to approve CONSARC’s engagement with Ballymena United and Ballymena Raceway, and for a final options paper to be developed for presentation to the council’s Operations Committee as soon as possible.