Ilex and the commoners’ game


May I use your columns to express some dissatisfaction with my treatment by Ilex regarding my campaign to have a new football stadium located at Fort George for Derry City Football Club.

As you will know, that (currently vacant) site is owned by Ilex so nothing moves there without their say-so. For that reason it was therefore necessary for me to meet them in pursuance of the above campaign, which has been going on for a few years now.

Early on I was granted a meeting with their chief executive at the time, Bill Kirk, which, in my opinion, showed great promise. Unfortunately he moved on shortly afterwards so it was back to square one. There followed, some time later, two further appointments with his successors. Both were cancelled by Ilex at very short notice with no reason being given. Personally I feel that football/sport is regarded in high places as being a bit ‘common’ and the powers-that-be are waitng for something more ‘acceptable’ to come along. Shades of Wilkins Micawber!

I was then given an appointment with one of the Ilex operatives. This meeting took place in the City Hotel and not in the Ilex offices across the road. Our discussion started off with my ‘adversary’ being obviously very dubious about the proposed development but, as the details were laid out to him, he seemed to warm to the idea. As we parted, he promised to write to me at length within the week, laying out what he felt were the strengths and weaknesses of my plan.

Six weeks later I hadn’t heard from him but bumped into him by accident on the street. He told me he’d been off for a while but was now back in harness - and would be writing to me “immediately”. That was three months ago and, so far, not a scratch.

In recent days I tried again to make contact and rang the Ilex office twice. On both occasions my friend was “on the phone” but would return my call. I’m still waiting. Or, to be more accurate, I’m not still waiting!

Thick as I am, I’m beginning to get the message!

Let me say at this point, though, that this is not a personal gripe with my contact. On the contrary, he was extremely gracious, friendly and very helpful. What I suspect is that his masters have put the clampers on any further meetings as they hold their noses at the thought of soccer on what seems to be ‘hallowed’ (if somewhat ‘Japanese Knotweeded’) ground. They may still be holding out some forlorn hope that Bill Gates is considering moving his Microsoft operation from Silicon Valley to the banks of the Foyle. Or maybe not.

So it looks like a different approach is needed.

May I say this. As I understand it, Ilex are supposed to be the servants of this city - and its people. And not their masters. If this means sometimes having to listen to some of us with ideas above our station, then so be it. Me, I’ve always accepted the axiom that you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Sadly in this case, though, it looks like I couldn‘t get it even as far as the trough. To move to another horse-related metaphor, I’m no longer interested in tilting at windmills.

And as another well-established principle put it, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”!


Eddie Mahon,

Derry City.