Liam Beckett: Harry Gregg Sport and Multi-Activity Dome will be a fitting legacy to one of NI’s greatest
Just over two years ago, I lost a truly loyal friend, and Northern Ireland lost an absolute legend in Harry Gregg. Shortly after Harry passed, the Gregg family was inundated with countless offers of goodwill from scores of ‘well meaning’ people. Those offers included a wide range of suggestions, including the erection of statues at various locations across the UK.
Still, we all knew that’s not what Harry would have wanted. Harry Gregg was a man of the people who came from a very humble background and, unlike so many who go on to achieve world recognition and global stardom, he never forgot his roots or, as we would say in this neck of the woods, “he never forgot the bowl he was baked in.” So, almost two years ago, shortly after Harry’s passing, we set about forming a small working group of people from a cross-section of highly qualified people in various fields, with the sole aim of formulating a ‘living’ legacy project that would be of benefit to the people and something that Harry would have approved and been immensely proud of.
Although Harry was voted the best goalkeeper in the world at the 1958 World Cup, he had an interest in most sports. Since the launch of the Harry Gregg Foundation seven years ago, our Small Sided Games Centre has quickly grown in numbers, year after year, to the extent that we now have well over 100 teams of kids every Saturday morning descend upon our base currently located at Ulster University, Coleraine. Indeed, so has our disability sports centre, which is held every Wednesday night – that demand has now practically outweighed supply in terms of proper facilities, and that helped convince us that perhaps now was the time to hatch our plans for the erection of a giant Sport and Multi-activity dome within the borough of Coleraine. Harry always wanted to see a properly structured sports platform, which would be affordable for kids from all walks of life, all classes and creeds, all spending time together playing the beautiful game. Such has been the continued success of the HGF that we, as a working group of volunteers, needed no convincing that the time was right to further develop that incredible success story into a more permanent form for a lasting legacy to a man who commanded so much respect, not only here in Northern Ireland but across the world as well.
This facility would be ‘state of the art’ yet easily affordable for people to use. We have progressed the development work to build a robust case for this hugely exciting project, including securing the services of a vastly experienced team, undertaking a feasibility study, and outlining the business case with the support of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council. We aim to complete this element of the work very shortly to take the next practical steps to realising our ambitions to mark the great man’s legacy as he would have seen fit.
Over the last 18 months, we have met with First Ministers and several other high-profile Ministers right across the board. Although we don’t do party politics because we are only interested in ‘sport for all,’ I am delighted to report that we have received tremendous support and encouragement from them all. For me, our leading politicians must appreciate just how big a contribution sport and recreation play in Northern Ireland, particularly at grassroots level. Our proposed Sport and Multi-Activity Dome will provide three vital ingredients, ‘Somewhere to go,’ ‘Something to do,’ and ‘Someone to talk to.’ We have also consulted with our member clubs in the HGF, and I am delighted to report that they are eager to see the Sport and Multi-Activity Dome up and running and in proper functional use. As well as sport, we would be keen to see the ‘dome’ used for various other needs such as concerts, seminars, conferences, arts & drama, etc.; indeed, the list is endless. We are also very aware that our vision of the ‘dome’ will not only provide new but also complement existing facilities in the borough, and we are being careful not to duplicate these facilities. Hence, it is a win-win situation for everyone.
Can I take the opportunity to thank those Councillors in the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council who have been so supportive from day one. Together we will hopefully see this exciting project and lasting legacy to one of our country’s greatest ever ambassadors come to fruition; in fact, who wouldn’t be delighted to be able to associate the iconic name of Harry Gregg with a new state of the art sports dome.
By Liam Becket, Harry Gregg Foundation Chairman