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National Lottery Football Weekends campaign to celebrate local football clubs and communities

National Lottery players across Northern Ireland are being given the chance to watch their local football teams for free as a thank you for the over £12.5million of National Lottery funding which helped these community clubs survive when the Covid pandemic struck and football at this level effectively shut down.

The National Lottery Football Weekends campaign across the four home nations will make over 100,000 tickets available on a ‘Buy One Get One Free’ basis for National Lottery players for selected matches in March and April, including games in the Danske Bank Premiership, Lough 41 Championship and Lough Premier Intermediate leagues.

It aims to get people out to watch and really get behind their local team, perhaps for the first time, and experience the vital role these clubs play as part of their local community.

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Thanks to National Lottery players, during the height of the Covid crisis a total support package of over £12.5 million from The National Lottery was made available and proved vital for many local clubs across Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales to survive the loss of essential matchday revenue as football shut down.

Gareth McAuley pictured with two of Coleraine FC's rising stars

Crowds have since returned to football at this level in huge numbers as people recognise the importance of their local football club to their local community.

The National Lottery Football Weekends is to thank National Lottery players for stepping up when they were needed the most.

The special ‘Buy One Get One Free’ ticket offer will be available to National Lottery players for a game at one of the 231 participating clubs in Northern Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland.* The ticket offer will apply to one home match for each club, taking place between 19th March and 16th April.

The campaign will be delivered in partnership with the IFA (Irish Football Association) National League and NIFL (Northern Ireland Football League), The FA (Football Association), The SFA (Scottish Football Association) and FAW (Football Association of Wales) and is also backed by former Northern Ireland international, Gareth McAuley.

Patrick Nelson, Chief Executive, IFA, said: “National Lottery players have a vital role to play in supporting our national game but especially at local and grassroots level.

"Local football is the very heartbeat of our national game and our communities, and this connection between clubs and their local communities needs to be celebrated. So many of our players at the top end of the game would not be where they are today without them.

"I urge everyone to get out and support their local side and there is no better time to do it than now.”

Gareth McAuley, who played for Coleraine, Linfield, Crusaders and Ballyclare Comrades said: “In nearly every corner of the country you will find a football club which does much more than just kick a ball around on a Saturday afternoon.

"These clubs make a difference to so many in their community and they suffered perhaps more than any other part of our game during the pandemic.

"The support of National Lottery players has been crucial in helping them survive and now you can support them again, but this time from the terraces.”

Colin McKendry, Chair of Coleraine FC, added: “It was a difficult time for so many during the pandemic and it felt like our club had a bleak future at times.

"To have National Lottery players step in and help us survive through to getting fans back through the gates was amazing.

"This is a great way to celebrate that support - the importance of clubs like ours and to give people the chance to sample the unique experience of football at this level.

"We can’t wait to welcome people down to our ground.”

To find out more about The National Lottery Football Weekends and to find your nearest match visit www.thenationallotteryfootballweekends.co.uk.

Each club will be responsible for distributing tickets for its home match and details on how to claim will be available from each club. Terms and conditions apply.

The money for this campaign, as well as the initiatives with the various FAs and leagues across the UK during Covid came from a National Lottery promotional fund, it was not funded by money allocated for National Lottery Good Causes or by Camelot.

The National Lottery is also working alongside Non-League Day, a campaign set up in 2010 to encourage supporters of clubs playing at the highest levels of the game to support their smaller local or non-league club and sample the unique matchday experience of football at local level.

The National Lottery has always played a vital role in supporting elite, community and grassroot sport in the UK.

Including football, The National Lottery has invested more than £5.7 billion into grassroots sport since it was established in 1994.

In the last year nearly £395 million was given to grassroots and elite sport good causes, funding everything from facilities to playing fields and creating opportunities for everyone to get active and improve their lives through sport.

There are other opportunities for National Lottery players in March. The National Lottery Open Week takes place between 19th - 27th March to say thank you for the more than £30 million raised every week by National Lottery players.

Open Week unlocks free entry and exclusive discounts for National Lottery players at a range of participating venues including galleries, museums, gardens, historic castles and sports stadiums.

Full Ts&Cs apply and are available at www.nationallotteryopenweek.com