Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Tony Blair ‘keen to encourage relocation of Wimbledon football team to Belfast’

Sir Tony Blair (Steve Parsons/PA)
Sir Tony Blair (Steve Parsons/PA)

Former prime minister Sir Tony Blair was keen on an idea to relocate then-Premier League football side Wimbledon FC to Belfast in the late 1990s.

Previously confidential state papers include a note from 1997 described as “following up earlier informal discussions about the possibility of an English Premier League football club relocating to Belfast”.

It was described as something that would be a “significant breakthrough if Belfast had a football team playing in the English Premier League”, and “should be able to build up strong cross-community support and provide a positive unifying force in a divided city”.

It was also mooted that 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.

The note suggested that Wimbledon FC would undergo a name change to Belfast United.

Mo Mowlam
Mo Mowlam was Northern Ireland secretary at the time (PA)

It was leaked to the Belfast Telegraph which then published a story reporting that Secretary of State Mo Mowlam was throwing her weight behind the idea, to bring new investment to Northern Ireland and boosting its image on the international stage.

However the article also noted that local football bosses in Northern Ireland were concerned it could “kill off the game in Northern Ireland”.

As well as Ms Mowlam, Downing Street also took an interest in the proposal, with a note by then-chief press secretary Alistair Campbell urging that Wimbledon owner Sam Hammam “had explored the possibility of moving Wimbledon to Dublin, but this seems to have come to naught”.

He added that Mr Hammam had seen media reports of Northern Ireland’s interest, and “was keen to know whether this was serious, or speculation, leading nowhere”.

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

It recorded Mr Blair’s view was that “it would be excellent if Wimbledon were to move to Belfast and we should encourage this as much as possible”.

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

It said that the three local newspapers have welcomed it, and that TV presenter Eamonn Holmes “has been active in collecting public support”.

Former Wimbledon owner Sam Hamman
Former Wimbledon owner Sam Hammam (PA)

“If the Irish football authorities are to adjust their position, it will have to be achieved by local pressure, probably with Government remaining in the background,” the note records, as well as suggested that Mr Hammam is encouraged to visit Belfast “in order to assess the seriousness of his interest”.

A letter to Ms Mowlam in April 1999 by a member of the Bring Premier League Soccer to Northern Ireland, detailed discussions with then-UK Sports Minister Lord Dubs and Mr Hammam, but noted continuing opposition by the football authorities in Northern Ireland.

They wrote that “difficult, intense, open, honest debate, discussion and negotiation is required”, but said the prize is “indeed great and potentially magnificent. A situation similar to the peace process”.

The idea is not mentioned again in the file after which attention shifted to proposals to build a new national stadium for Northern Ireland for the millennium.

Wimbledon FC remained in England, and relocated to Milton Keynes in 2002.