Less than Turkish delight shows need for new Derry City stadium

�/Presseye.com - 25th July 2013.  Press Eye Ltd - Northern Ireland - Europa League Second Qualifying Round 2nd Leg. Derry City V Trabzonspor.''Trabzonspor fans.''Mandatory Credit Photo Lorcan Doherty / Presseye.com
�/Presseye.com - 25th July 2013. Press Eye Ltd - Northern Ireland - Europa League Second Qualifying Round 2nd Leg. Derry City V Trabzonspor.''Trabzonspor fans.''Mandatory Credit Photo Lorcan Doherty / Presseye.com

The sight of Trabzonspor players getting on the bus in their playing gear after their Europa League match at Brandywell is just another reminder of how much the city needs a stadium, argues ‘Journal’ columnist and former senior player EDDIE MAHON. And he suggests that the new Science Park building at Fort George, although a likely white elephant, actually gives a boost to any plan to put the stadium there.

Now that we’ve successfully overcome the embarrassment of sitting beside the Turkish officials in the Glentoran stand at the Europa Cup match - and watched as the Trabzonspor players got back on their coach afterwards still wearing their playing gear - we can turn again to the issue of a future home for our great club.

That big match recently once again highlighted the inadequacies of Brandywell, bounded by a rubbish dump and an abandoned transit camp on one side, and overlooked by the City Cemetery on another. We can only imagine what the Turkish supporters told their mates, families and neighbours when they got home.

Maybe in the interests of ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘the bigger picture’ we could have taken the game to Windsor Park! That would have saved us the excruciation of the Turkish (and Irish) media having to sit at a location where, recently, a rat ran across the desks to the shock and horror of the startled local journalists! Welcome to our humble home!

I think it is now accepted by the majority of our city’s citizens – whether they’re football fans or not – that the City of Culture 2013 needs a new football stadium. And that that stadium can no longer be sited at Brandywell. Let’s recap the main reasons for this:

1. Brandywell has a nine foot diagonal slope which would take millions to correct. (Yeovil’s solution was to move to a new ground at Huish Park!)

2. The surrounding dog track prevents the playing surface being enlarged to European Category 3 requirements.

3. The dog track itself poses a major health risk in terms of toxicaris canis to the ballboys and children who play at half-time.

4. The Brandywell location itself is regarded by the Unionist/Protestant community as ‘unfriendly’ and, while they may be mistaken here, the perception will remain. So, if Derry City FC have designs to be a club which represents the whole city, Brandywell cannot serve this purpose.

5. There will always be major security problems for ‘sensitive’ games.

These are just five of approximately 20 crucial reasons (where, for instance, are we going to play during any reconstruction at Brandywell?) why our current location is OUT!

It is my opinion that the ONLY alternative is at Fort George. In 2004 Ilex was given the newly-released army barracks with a brief to attract ‘high paying, high tech’ jobs. Numerous false dawns were announced, chief among which was the Manhattan Project where that section of the city would be turned into a mini-Manhattan (see pic). To call it pie-in-the-sky would be to understate it. Then we were overtaken by the 2007 banking scandals and any hope there ever was of a single job coming to Fort George – slim as that was – evaporated. Since then not even a ‘high tech’ sparrow has landed on the site, yet the DSD are still asking us to hold on to the pretence that jobs ‘in high tech industries’ are queuing up to come here despite now nine years of total disinterest.

As George Bush MIGHT have put it; “Fool me once..” Yet, the fooling still continues in the shape of the new proposed white elephant. And yet our new minister, Mark H. Durkan, seems to think that’s a great idea. Maybe he’d like to go into print and explain why.

With nine years gone and not the sign of a job, even Belfast was becoming embarrassed – and that’s no mean feat. You could almost hear the conversations deep in the bowels of the DSD - “We’d need to do something up there. But we can’t be sending them real Belfast-type jobs. What about a Science Park? There’ll be no threat from that.”

So Nelson travelled down with the good news. ONE shining new building – and modelled on the ‘hugely successful’ Titanic Science Park – to kick off the expected new avalanche of jobs for Fort George.

Well, at least that was the fiction. Now THE FACTS. The ‘hugely successful’ Titanic Park has just a 30% occupancy of ‘science’ jobs. The rest is occupied by Hedge Fund companies, ‘banking’ operations’ and a plethora of other ‘non-science’ firms. If you were to call up tomorrow to rent space to manufacture ‘diagonal steam traps’ you’d be welcomed with open arms.

But the most insulting part of all is that there are already THREE of these extremely high spec buildings lying empty down at Templemore. Paddy Shortall built them some years ago WITHOUT A PENNY OF GRANT MONEY after the Derry City Council had employed consultants Segal, Quince and Wicksteed to advise on the best location for them.

These experts selected the Buncrana Road over Fort George!

But there are two even more important points to be considered. Paddy Shorthall himself considers his buildings ‘unlettable’ (his own words!) because of the huge differential in Corporation Tax north and south of the border. So it stands to reason that, if these properties are not lettable, neither will the new Trojan Horse at the former army base.

Even more curious, though, is the legal and ethical questions posed. It is certainly not ethical but is it even LEGAL for a government department to spend THIRTEEN MILLION pounds (for that is the cost of McCausland’s Plan) to compete directly with the private sector, especially when its failure is absolutely guaranteed?

So it would seem that the DSD are prepared to do anything on their site except something that might be of great use to the city.

The proposed football stadium at Fort George would more than meet the requirements they’ve laid down so where in God’s name is the problem? I await an answer.

It may be thought that I’m objecting to the Science Park, silly as it is, because it might blight the idea of the football stadium project. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, it will be a huge plus.

When I talked to Ilex originally about the idea of the stadium at Fort George, their two major objections to it were - a. the traffic problems caused at the Buncrana Road roundabout, and b, the lack of car-parking provided.

The Science Park, with its proposed 2,000 jobs, will eliminate these problems and help enormously the ‘new Brandywell’ cause.

As the Science Park is at the Strand Road end of the Fort George site, and the stadium would be up by the riverside, there’s absolutely no conflict in that area either.

The new stadium can still go ahead at Fort George. Once we know that it’s possible, we can then go looking for funding.