UK News

Tony Blair was keen to move Premier League football team to Belfast in late 1990s, Northern Ireland files reveal | UK News

Former prime minister Tony Blair was keen to relocate a Premier League football team to Belfast in the late 1990s, previously confidential state papers have revealed.

The move would have been a “significant breakthrough” for Belfast, and “should be able to build up strong cross-community support and provide a positive unifying force in a divided city”, a government note written in 1997 said.

The note suggested that then Premier League team Wimbledon FC would undergo a name change to Belfast United, after the move from south London.

It was also mooted it would come with a principally private sector-funded modern 40,000-seater sports stadium, and potentially an academy for sport, located on Queen’s Island in east Belfast or the North Foreshore site in the north of the city.

A memo dated 16 July 1998 – just months after the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement was signed – indicated Mr Blair was keen on the idea.

His view was that “it would be excellent if Wimbledon were to move to Belfast and we should encourage this as much as possible”.

Blair speaking at Labour Party conference in 1996
Blair speaking at Labour Party conference in 1996

At the time – as is still the case – Northern Ireland did not have a team in the English Football League.

Wimbledon FC had been based in south London since 1912 but had not had a permanent base since 1991 following the Taylor Report on ground safety. With players like Vinnie Jones in the team, however, they were seeing crowds of up to 18,000 at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park.

Another note, dated 17 August 1998, described the matter as being at a “delicate stage”, recording that the Irish football authorities “continue to resist the idea strongly”.

Local bosses were concerned it could “kill off the game in Northern Ireland”.

The idea would never come to fruition and Wimbledon FC remained in England, relocating to Milton Keynes in 2002 instead – becoming MK Dons – with a new Wimbledon team, AFC, later emerging in its…

More information about this article Read More
This notice was published: 2023-12-28 10:08:00

By Sky News

Sky News is a British 24-hour information television channel, the first in Europe of its kind, launched on February 5, 1989 by the British Sky Broadcasting Company.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *