A North Belfast football club has said it desperately needs its own training facilities to grow as a team.
Grove United FC currently train at Shore Road Playing Fields and Loughside Park but say these facilities are not suitable for training as there are often holes in the ground, floodlights that don’t work well and often dog droppings pitches.
Training can be particularly difficult during the winter months as teams have to travel from their local area to places such as Valley Leisure Center and Mallusk Playing Fields for more suitable facilities.
Read more: The Belfast coach talks about mental health issues and inspires new initiatives
Members of the squad have said these issues mean players are often transferred to other nearby clubs that have better training facilities.
The club currently have 11 teams in different age groups plus two senior teams but fear a lack of suitable places could halt their success.
Belfast Live spoke to Neil Thompson and club chairman Brian Boyd, who highlighted some of the issues the club faced acquiring space and how this has affected them.
Brian Boyd has been with Grove United for over 40 years but has been club chairman for the past 13 years. In that time, he said, they have been fighting for better facilities with no solution.
He said: “This has been going on for about 12 years during which I have been looking for better facilities. Every other area in Belfast has access to three or four different 4G pitches.
“But if you look under Antrim Road coming down Shore Road, into lower North Belfast, there are no facilities at all apart from Crusaders Football Club which is privately owned. There is nothing the Council is doing to accommodate the people of lower North Belfast.
“We’ve waited far too long. We try to help the community more, we go to schools. North Belfast is one of the worst places in Europe for suicide and we’re trying to help the community, we’re trying to get kids off the streets and into active sport to discourage anti-social behavior.”
Brian said Belfast City Council has now allocated funds for changing rooms at the Shore Road Playing Fields and she is awaiting planning permission for this.
In addition, the council is making a proposal for a 4G space on the site, but has yet to access funding to bring it to life.
Neil Thompson is the coach and Mental Health Champion for Grove United. He said having their own facilities in a central hub allows them to stay focused on their well-being ethos.
“This part of Lower North Belfast is very disadvantaged,” explained Neil.
“The soil we are currently using is not suitable. We use a farmer’s field for the children’s teams and have to send them to Newtownabbey in the Valley for the winter.
“Loughside has been shut down for something shocking. They’ve got five and six year olds training in a court full of big holes and then there’s dog poop and they turn off the floodlights.
“We would love something along this path. We’re a family run club and we’re getting more and more successful, but we’re kind of a victim of our own success.
“We do great things for the community, but we could do so much more if those in power would help us. The lack of facilities is holding us back.”
He said the lack of a decent pitch is currently turning players away from the team to clubs further afield with better facilities.
Neil added: “We serve all sides of the local community with our teams, including people who are moving into the area, including asylum seekers.
“We would lose many local children to other nearby times due to our lack of facilities and I would prefer that they remain in their own communities.”
He said the club would even like to share a pitch with another local club as long as all of its teams could train from the same area.
“We definitely need something stocked specifically for the kids in this area,” he added. “The sooner you get them the better, the sooner you get them off the streets the better.
“Football is great for people’s well-being. It would be great to have all our teams in one place, at the moment our teams train in all different places, but it would be nice to have one hub where everything can be done from.”
A spokesman for Belfast City Council said: “Belfast City Council has committed £950,000 through its Belfast Investment Fund for the development of a new 4 dressing room pavilion for Malgrove (Malachians and Grove United FCs) on the Shore Road Playing Fields.
“A planning application for a broader proposal for a sports center at the site, which will include the changing pavilion as well as a new 3G playing field, is due to be submitted in autumn 2022. Belfast City Council continues to work closely with the groups to ensure funding for the broader sports centers proposal.”
Read more: Belfast school is one of the first in NI to use immersive technology
Read more: Belfast alteration shop celebrates 40th anniversary
Sign up for our free newsletter to get the latest news straight to your inbox.