Ballymena to host young Manchester United stars in STATSports SuperCupNI exhibition
FORMER Manchester United schoolboy and youth team player David Jeffrey is relishing the opportunity to roll out the red carpet for the latest crop of young stars for Old Trafford.
As one of two exhibition challenge games in the STATSports SuperCupNI international youth tournament, Manchester United will take on Ballymena United at Under-23 level on Monday, July 29 (KO 7.30pm).
“It is an honour for me and for everyone connected with Ballymena United to welcome a Manchester United team to the Showgrounds,” says Sky Blues boss Jeffrey who is currently guiding his players in their European adventures in the Europa League.
Ballymena are in action on Thursday in the first qualifying round of the Europa League having comfortably dispatched NSÍ Runavík of the Faroe Islands.
Ahead of Thursday’s qualifier against Malmo in Sweden, Jeffrey has been taking time out of his busy schedule to fine tune plans for the visit of Manchester United with his performance analyst David Douglas and other members of staff.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for the talent we have at our club. They will have the challenge of facing the best talent when you consider the calibre of player at Manchester United at Under-23 level,” he says.
“I have fond memories of my time at Manchester United as a 14-year-old schoolboy, on through as an apprentice and then as a young pro. Unfortunately, I didn’t go on but I am proud to have been there and the club blazer still hangs in my wardrobe. It is one of my most cherished possessions.”
Teenager Kofi Balmer – last season’s Young Player of the Year in Northern Ireland and first team defender with Ballymena - will be one of the players on show in the Ballymena line-up.
Ballymena captain Jim Ervin is hoping to have a part in the game as one of the permitted overage players.
Ervin featured for County Antrim at Junior level in 1999 and 2000 along with Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis and a Showgrounds legend Albert Watson.
“I recall playing for Northern Ireland against Brazil in the Elite competition in 2003,” says Jim. “We met them at Windsor Park in the 21st anniversary year of the event and it was a terrific occasion.
“Fernandinho was in that team which was coached by Branco, a World Cup legend.
“That was a special moment in my young career and I know that playing Manchester United’s finest will be the same for our aspiring talent.”
Jim is now involved as a coach with the County set up and has seen talent such as Balmer coming through the ranks.
Balmer, who made his senior Ballymena United debut at the tender age of 16, is still only 18. He has captained Northern Ireland at both U-19 and U-21 levels.
“I remember both years very well. As a young teenager those five days at the tournament are the best of your life, playing football every day.
“Two years ago we won the Globe by beating Brazilian side Osasco and only missed out on competing for the cup on goal difference to Newcastle United.”
Tickets for the Ballymena U-23 game will be available shortly and purchase details will be released as soon as possible. Entry to the game will be £10 for adults and £5 for under-16s.
Before that, Coleraine Showgrounds will host an U-21 game between Rangers and Manchester United on Saturday, July 27 (adults £7, U-16s £4).