Northern Ireland is set to welcome European football to its doorstep when for the first time it is to host a UEFA club competition organised in mini-tournament format.
Crusaders Newtownabbey Strikers women's soccer club will be the hosts for the qualifying round of the UEFA Women’s Champions League from 5 August to 10 August, and will feature top teams from the cream of women’s soccer in Europe.
Led by University of Ulster Sports Studies lecturer Dr Katie Liston, the winning bid fought off competition to be selected as one of seven hosts of the European qualifying stage of the competition.
Dr Liston, who is the tournament co-ordinator and chairperson of the Strikers, said that the event marks a significant development in the game of football in the north:
“Women’s soccer in Northern Ireland has been going from strength to strength and has seen some first rate footballers come to the fore. I would encourage everyone to get behind their local side and enjoy a spectacle of football, which I hope will also inspire everyone to get involved in sport.
“Hosting such a prestigious competition like the Women’s Champions League can only further showcase the impressive talent that exists in women’s soccer not just in Europe but also right here on our doorstep.”
One such talent is the Northern Ireland international Julie Nelson, who also works in the University of Ulster’s Sports Centre.
Julie has been a central member of the international defence for some time and she is relishing the opportunity to represent her club and the University in the UEFA Women's Champions league on home soil.
The Ulster connection doesn’t end there however, as two Ulster students are involved in playing and coaching capacities. Billy Wylie, a current student of the University’s Sports Coaching Foundation degree, is coach of the Strikers team while Sara Booth's doctoral research in Irish women's football migration to the US is well underway with the Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Institute. Both hope to lead a side laden with Northern Irish internationals to European success.
Wylie’s side will be up against it though with the host team being drawn against top seeds and 2009 UEFA Women’s Cup champions, FCR 2001 Duisburg from Germany. The Strikers are current leaders of the premier division of the 2010 Northern Ireland Women’s Football Association league sponsored by Davisons’ Frudles, and their opposition also includes SK Slovan Bratislava and Glasgow City FC.
The three match grounds nominated for the UEFA Women’s Champions League include Stangmore Park, home of Dungannon Strikers; Mill Meadow, the new artificial surface and home to one of the oldest football clubs in Ireland, Moyola Park FC; and, Ballymena Showgrounds, home to Ballymena United FC.
The combined expertise of Ulster staff and students will be invaluable in this unique venture alongside the Irish Football Association.
Crusaders Newtownabbey Strikers have also been joined by partners, the North Belfast Play Forum, whose groundbreaking community work on the Midnight Street Soccer scheme under the auspices of Ulster student Billy Wylie, aims to develop sport, to develop communities and to develop people by providing coaching and competitions for young people in the heart of the community at the times when it is needed most.
For further information on the tournament, please visit the tournament website Crusaders-Strikers.com, or contact Dr Katie Liston on firstname.lastname@example.org
Crusaders Newtownabbey Strikers football team with Ulster student Billy Wylie (left) and Jordanstown staff member Julie Nelson (back row sixth from left) and Ulster research student Sara Booth (front row fourth from right)