'IF Ballymoney had another hotel we could fill it', that was the pledge when officials from Northern Ireland Milk Cup tournamnet attended a recent Council meeting.
The aim of the presentation by Victor Leonard, Chairman, and Jim Weir, Secretary was to enourage members to re-consider a sponsorship deal for the event.
Back in 2008 it was agreed that Council would give 15,000 to the Milk Cup for each of three years including 2010. But with the credit crunch, Ballymoney councillors earlier in 2010 reduced the figure to 10,000 at the time they were doing their rates estimates.
Addressing members, Mr Weir outlined important milestones in the history of the Milk Cup tournament since its launch in 1983 and highlighted that 2012 would mark it's 30 year anniversary.
Thanking Ballymoney for its continued support over the years Mr Weir praised the Borough's 'excellent facilities' stating 'the Riada Centre is the jewel in the crown'.
The tournament secretary also focused on the tournaments 'continuous growth' recognising its world recognition and its ability to attract top teams, personalities and players such as, Manchester United, Germany, David Beckham, Sir Alex Ferguson, Bob Paisley, Martin O'Neill, Nigel Worthington, Harry Redknapp and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, to name but a few.
He said: "In 1983 only eight teams from outside Northern Ireland participated. In 2008 there were 41 teams. By 2010, our 28th year, teams from 60 countries representing all five continents and all six FIFA Confederations had participated at the Milk Cup.
"Over the 28-years, more than 42,000 competitors will have participated with 30,000 plus from outside Northern Ireland."
He then outlined the benefits of being part of the contest stating that it was a 'good cross community event', developed a 'feeling of pride and ownership', 'ticked all the tourism boxes' and held a 'massive media presence' including printed, television, radio and electronic.
"The Milk Cup is a good cross-section community event that not only brings together religion but also different race, countries and cultures," he continued.
"It also ticks all the tourism boxes attracting a major influx of visitors to the area and boasts numerous requests for accommodation in three of the four Borough Council areas (Coleraine, Limavady and Ballymena). The estimated attendance at all 14 venues within the four Council areas is 70,000.
"All available hotels are used from Drummond Hotel in Ballykelly to Rosspark Hotel in Kells. If Ballymoney had another hotel then we could fill it.
"In 2010 there were 1,508 participants for six night resulted in excess of 9,000 bed nights. In addition to accommodation of participants the amount in respect of spectators and supporters is unknown but we believe it to be substantial."
Urging Council to consider their percentage told of sponsorship, Mr Weir revealed: "The total net running costs for the last five years (2006 to 2010) totalled 2,181,512. An average annual cost of 436,302. The amount requested from Ballymoney Borough Council (15,000) which is 3.43% of the average net cost of running the tournament.
"Last year this 15,000 from Ballymoney fell by the wayside. I would urge councillors to re-consider, 3.43% plays a very important role in the tournament although it seems small in relation to the total cost of running it.
"In 1988 Ballymoney came on board and were very good supporters. They provided well prepared pitches, received people well and held first class receptions during the Milk Cup week."
Responding to the presentation, Cllr Malachy McCamphill questioned why the Milk Cup 'paid the teams to come' stating: "Surely they have enough money already."
He also asked: "How can the event develop local soccer rather than bringing teams and players from outside?"
Mr Leonard replied: "The big clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool, get hundreds of invites every year and we need to encourage them to come to our event. The money we pay them, which is not a lot, is small compared to what we get back.
"Regarding soccer development, we must remember the Milk Cup is an event and not a soccer school. The development is for young teams to play their best players and for the local community to get the chance to see the best."
Mr Weir also urged members to recognised the costs on the individual teams explaining: "It's supply and demand. They get invitations from all over the world however over the years we have developed personal relationships with teams and convince them to come. We must remember it also costs teams to come over."
Cllr James Simpson praised the event saying: "The Milk Cup is a major tourist attraction for people to come to the area who are interested in soccer. It is a great tribute to the organisers and hope that it keeps going."
However expressing concern over the lack of accommodation Mr Weir stated: "Over the years the tournament has expanded and we would love to widen the age groups more. But where would they stay? We can't put them up in a tent on Portrush Strand."
Cllr Ian Stevenson criticised Council's u-turn on last year's sponsorship deal adding: "It is a great tournamnet and I'm sorry you didn't get the money last year. If it had been up to our party then you would have got it although I don't want to get into a political discussion."
He then questioned the Milk Cup's relationship compared to the Foyle Cup which is another top youth football tournament in the North West.
In response Mr Weir disclosed figures illustrating that the Foyle Cup attracted more Irish teams explaining: "We could fill the Milk Cup with 1,000 Irish teams if we had the capacity. However there's no real benefit in Irish teams playing Irish teams when they already do that throughout the year."
Enquiring about the tournaments value to the local area, Cllr Bill Kennedy said: "I take my hat off to the agencies and tournament organisers.
"However the NW200 week in Ballymoney is better than the Milk Cup week. I'm not knocking the Milk Cup but in economic terms there is no benefit to our Borough.
"I would also like to highlight to Cllr Stevenson that if the DUP didn't vote to cut this budget last year, and they're the biggest majority, then how could we have done it?"
Cllr John Finlay also praised the organisers and 'the teams they bring in', however agreed with Cllr Kennedy: "This event is very prestigious to have in Ballymoney. But it's just a pity we can't get the visitors down the street."
Concurring with the words of encourage, Cllr Evelyne Robinson continued: "The Milk Cup is a great asset. I would also like to praise Ballymoney Council staff for making the event second to none.
Also supporting the event, Cllr Frank Campbell highlighted the rumours to 'take away the event to Belfast' and Cllr Storey expressed his concerns that 'Belfast was the centre of everything' adding: "Are we sure we can retain the tournament geographically? It has gone to Ballymena and could go away further'.
Hitting back at comments Mr Weir said that it was 'unfortunate' that the tournament wasn't held closure to the centre of the town and encouraged more spending but 'the Milk Cup didn't move the field away to the JDLC'.
In relation to Cllr Storey's comments, Mr Leonard revealed: "There are people who would like to move the event to Belfast. However we have confidence in the four major grounds (Ballymoney, Ballymena, Limavady and Coleraine)."
Council will make a decision at the Rates Estimate meeting.