Northern Ireland

Sport and Leisure Swifts adapt to loss of clubhouse

Burned out clubhouse
Image caption Swifts' clubhouse was burned out on Boxing Day

Goodwill was in short supply for Sport and Leisure Swifts over Christmas.

At 21:00 GMT on Boxing Day, the west Belfast football club was the target of vandals who broke into the team's Glen Road clubhouse.

The gang smashed windows and damaged fixtures before lighting four separate fires and fleeing.

Club secretary John Morgan said the clubhouse was "the heartbeat of our club".

It was totally destroyed by the time the fire service managed to put out the blaze, leaving the side without a place to play and facing the possible loss of their position in the league.

Swifts need to raise funds in the region of £50,000 to £80,000 to repair the damage.

But with six weeks already gone since the incident, John Morgan said "refurbishment has not moved on one iota".

The club had been unable to afford expensive building or contents insurance for their property and have been left relying on donors while nursing hopes of a benevolent new sponsor.

Image caption Windows were also smashed during the attack

The club looked at several possible options to keep playing.

After a plan to install mobile changing rooms proved economically unfeasible, several clubs in Belfast, from the Amateur League all the way to the Premiership, offered to share their stadia with the Swifts; however none fulfilled the exacting criteria the Football League demands of a championship side.

With time running out, Swifts turned to clubs outside the city and accepted Larne FC's "gracious" offer of aid. They will now play all their home matches at Inver Park until the end of the season.

The arrangement is hardly ideal for a Belfast-based team. They're now forced into a long journey every time they play.

"Every game is an away game now," Mr Morgan said.

Apart from the inconvenience for the players and the loss of home advantage, the club forgoes all the match-day revenue their home games in Belfast would have generated.

"Apart from the club staff, just one person paid to see us play our last league match," Mr Morgan said.

"We're making a big loss, and we can't cover all our costs."

The lack of funds coming in means the refurbishment of the clubhouse cannot move forward.

Image caption The team long to return to their Glen Road pitch

Swifts have been enjoying a relatively successful season thus far.

Positive outlook

Sitting fifth in the table with several games in hand, they have already amassed more points than they managed in the whole of last year's campaign.

In their last match at Inver Park, they scored seven goals without reply against Ballymoney United.

Mr Morgan attributes the results to a "positive outlook" in the face of adversity, coupled with the hard work of the squad and manager Pat McAllister.

Swifts will be travelling to Armagh at the weekend for a last-16 clash in the Intermediate Cup.

Mr Morgan expects a tough tie against last season's losing finalists.

The club and its supporters might take some heart from a victory on Valentine's Day, but the one prize they would value more than anything would be a way to return home.

Image caption Even toilets were smashed at the clubhouse
Image copyright BBC Sport
Image caption Swifts need to raise funds in the region of £50,000 to £80,000 to repair the damage

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