Glebe Rangers, Ballymoney’s only remaining Championship football team, are doing battle with the Causeway Coast & Glens Council for the right to use the Riada Stadium on 20th July for a pre-season friendly against premiership side Coleraine.
The council had refused the club the use of the pitch despite the fact that it will be used the following week for the Milk Cup. Glebe Rangers Chairman John McAuley explained: “We go throught this every year, there is always something in the run up to the Milk Cup.
“Generally we just let it go but this year we approached Coleraine and Oran Kearney agreed to play us on Monday 20th July but the council refused to let us use the pitch. A game against Coleraine is a much needed money spinner for Glebe Rangers. We would reckon we have the potential to make between £1500 and £2000, however it looks like the council will have cost us this money because even if we get a pitch sorted now, it’s probably going to be too late to get Coleraine as they have a friendly arranged with Rangers later that week.
“After the council refused us initially, I contacted John Finlay to see what he could do and he has been very good so I would like to thank him for that. Various emails have gone back and forward between myself and Richard Baker, Director of Leisure & Development at the CC&G council.
“His email said: ‘The decision not to allow any activity on the pitch is based upon the pitch ended the season in a poor state of repair due to the poor winter weather and number of games played on it. It is currently undergoing summer maintenance work, ground staff are strongly advising that any activity on the pitch would result in the work being compromised. In general it is taking longer for the pitch to recover each year as the particular surface was laid several years ago. There is an understanding with the Milk Cup organisers not to allow tournament pitches to be used prior to the Milk Cup.’
“The thing is that pitch is always in immaculate condition for the Milk Cup so why wouldn’t it be ready one week before and when he talks about the number of games played on it - there’s ourselves, Ballymoney and a handful of training games and if that pitch can’t sustain that then there is something wrong.
“With regards the comment about pitches being kept for the Milk Cup, that is rubbish because both Coleraine and Ballymena are playing Rangers the week before the Milk Cup and they aren’t affected.
“He (Richard Baker) then came back to say; ‘Further to my last email, there are other options - Megaw Park, The Showgrounds and Dervock.’
“We can’t use Megaw Park or Dervock, because they are both public parks and you can’t charge people in. They then suggested we went round the crowd with a bucket!
“Even if Ballymoney would let us use the Showgrounds, their the pitch is undergoing coinsiderable work and it’s doubtful it will even be ready for the start of Ballymoney’s season.
“I then went with John Finlay to meet with Richard Baker on Friday and he arranged for the head groundsman at Coleraine to inspect the pitch on Monday morning to see if it is playable and if it will have an affect on the Milk Cup.
“The Milk Cup is six weeks away so how will the state of the pitch now be a fair representation of what it will be like then. My biggest fear was that they were going to say it won’t be playable. We know that it will be perfectly playable for the Milk Cup so what will the difference be in us playing on it one week prior to the Milk Cup.
“We were to have a decision on Monday morning but we are still waiting to hear the outcome of the pitch inspection, however, we will continue to be optimistic that sense will prevail.
“We have done some research on the Milk Cup and last year the council (Ballymoney) gave the Milk Cup £16,500, they also hosted a Civic Reception and gave them the the free use of the pitches, so all in all it cost the council around £18,500.
“We are averaging payments of £5877 per year to the council for pitch hire and training facilities and if you add in what they get from our Old Boys, they are getting around £7,000 from us. The Milk Cup get around £18,500 from the council, we give them around £7,000 yet they get the precedence - how does that work!”