Interest in the annual Hughes Insurance Foyle Cup continues to grow as the organisers face the challenge this year of catering for no fewer that 280 teams.
The organisers, the Derry & District Youth Football Association, whilst delighted with the growth in entries, also acknowledge that an increase in entries also means an increase in the cost of running the event and would urge funders, particularly the Department of Culture Arts & Leisure, to be more supportive of the event.
There can be no doubt that the Foyle Cup event is the fasting growing sporting event in Northern Ireland.
In 2012 it had an entry of 164 teams. City of Culture year witnessed the entry grow to 216 teams and last year this increased further to 220 teams and this year an amazing 280 teams will compete.
Tournament chairman, Michael Hutton, in acknowledging the growth of the event expressed his delight that the youth tournament is still not only attracting a high quality of entry but an ever increasing entry of teams.
“The teams continue to enjoy a great experience that they return each year and with us organising competitions for every age category - from 9 to 19 inclusive - this is now possible.
“We have been asked over the years, to acknowledge the growth of interest in ladies football and have endeavoured to do this, so much so that this year no fewer than 24 ladies teams will compete in the Ladies Foyle Cup.”
“When one takes into account the effect the recession is having on spending power not just throughout Ireland and the UK but globally - it is remarkable to note that this year we have our highest ever entry of teams.”
Each year the Foyle Cup generates in excess of 12,000 bed-nights and an ever increasing amount of spending in the local economy.
However, Mr Hutton expressed his concern in relation to financial support.
“We believe that it is now time that government, especially the Dept of Culture Art & Leisure, acknowledged the work done and financially supported this event.
“We are a group of volunteers, the Foyle Cup has no paid employees but look what it has achieved.
“We organise a tournament in which more than 4,300 youth are given the opportunity not only to further develop their undoubted skills but to measure these skills against high quality opposition in the hope that they, like many other participants over the years, can gain a full time football contract with a professional club.
“So many of our young players from the Foyle Cup event have gone on not only to gain professional contracts but to represent their country at international level. But organising an event of this size and importance costs money. In 2009 we were receiving grants from DCAL of approximately £60,000 – in 2014 we received not one pound.
“We have currently lobbying our politicians to put pressure on DCAL to secure funding for this event for not only are we developing football skills but we are also, through sport, playing a major part in the healing process of reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
“This festival does much to promote social interaction, cross community contact, reconciliation and anti-sectarianism and has a positive impact on the wider community (those attending the festival as well as those taking part) in terms of feel good factor and creating more community awareness and active engagement.
“There are few instances where certain sections of the community would be in a position to visit and socialise in areas that could, by some, be deemed as sectarian. By reaching out to and working with marginalised groups we are actively breaking down prejudices and boundaries,” said Mr Hutton.