A Dublin city football club says young people trespassing on its grounds to play matches during the Covid-19 pandemic has left it with a bill of more than €18,000 to repair damage to its pitch and facilities.
Stella Maris FC, which has more than 350 members, says the all-weather Dublin Port Stadium off Richmond Road has been badly damaged by players who travel from outside the area to use it for informal matches.
Informal leagues have been organised on social media by groups of young footballers in the city while organised sport is not permitted due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Derek Moore, secretary and trustee of Stella Maris FC, said pocket knives have been used to damage the all-weather surface, seats have been smashed, fences have been destroyed, industrial cladding has been pulled down and locks have been repeatedly broken by trespassers.
Other groups have driven scooters on the pitch causing damage and set up boxing rings, he said, adding that ground staff have been forced to become “security guards” for the club.
The damage caused has been “soul destroying” for members and volunteers, Mr Moore said. “We see these players on our grounds wearing other clubs' gear and then they give us abuse. There’s something not quite right there.”
The bulk of the damage happened late last summer, but a further €2,500 was spent on repairs after trespassers returned during the latest lockdown, he said.
“The damage is worth about €18,500 now, which is substantial considering we’re a schoolboy and schoolgirl club run by volunteers which is reliant mainly on income from player subscriptions,” Mr Moore said. “With nobody allowed to participate in sport we’ve basically had no income since February of last year.”
Mr Moore said it appeared “full-blown matches” were being arranged in advance with teams of about 15 players turning up. When approached by club members, the trespassers often verbally abuse them, he said.
“Some just come to play football on an all-weather pitch, they aren’t necessarily the troublesome ones but they are climbing over fences and breaking locks to get access,” he went on.
“I can understand their frustration, soccer is gone and they want to be out doing something. I’d rather they get involved in sport than something else on the corner but they need to understand every time they trespass they cause damage.”
Club members have contacted gardaí about the trespassing numerous times and the Garda Press Office confirmed the force was called out to an incident in early January.
A teenage boy who recently set up an Instagram page for "Queen Street FC" told The Irish Times he has organised weekly matches for over a month and trains with friends three times a week.
The teenager, who asked not to be named, said gardaí regularly tell the group to move on when they are seen playing matches but fines are never issued and the players just head to a different park.
"They've told us three or four times that we'll be fined but we take it as an empty threat. Today we were playing in Ringsend and they told us to move off the astro and play on the grass."
The teenager admits that the team does sometimes trespass on private grounds but insists they cause no damage.
“I get that it’s private property but we’re not doing any harm. We just want to play football,” he said.
“Sport is so important for young people my age and not having it affects our mental health . . . If we don’t play we’ll just sit around playing video games all day, especially with schools being closed.”