I appeared on the Stephen Nolan show this morning in my capacity as a committee member for the department of culture, arts and leisure, to discuss the structural damage to Windsor Park’s West Stand.
The recently discovered cracks in the stadium’s structure may put some upcoming football fixtures at risk including this Saturday’s top of the table clash between Linfield and Crusaders; the Irish Cup Final between Glentoran and Portadown on May 2nd; and perhaps most crucially of all Northern Ireland’s vital home game against Romania on June 13th.
Victory against Romania would put ‘our wee country’ well on course to qualify for our first major tournament in thirty years when Billy Bingham steered his squad to the World Cup finals in Mexico.
While it is too early to speculate on the outcome of the report by structural engineers into the damage at Windsor Park, we must ensure that a ‘plan B’ is in place ahead of June 13th.
Those of you old enough to remember will never forget the heady days of Spain ‘82 when Northern Ireland triumphed against the home nation and progressed to the quarter finals. Rumour has it that Gerry Armstrong has never had to put his hands in his pocket to pay for a pint since!
Four years later Northern Ireland again qualified and whilst we didn’t progress quite so far the game against the mighty Brazil has entered into folklore – so much so that a film called ‘Shooting For Socrates’ has been made. You can watch the trailer for the movie here:
Both these tournaments did much to bring both communities together as did the Republic of Ireland’s qualification for Italia ’90 and USA ’94. During all four tournaments pubs and clubs across Northern Ireland were crammed with football fans cheering on the boys in green. Qualification for France in 2016 would have a similar effect and would be a great boost for the local economy, tourism and community relations.
It is well worth noting that the Northern Ireland management team and playing squad is drawn from both communities. The Irish Football Association has done some fantastic work in building the sectarian bridges that once blighted the local game. The creation of a cross community cup in Belfast is one such example: http://irishfa.com/…/youth-initiatives-and-football-for-al…/
One thing we can all agree on is that the match against Romania must be played in Belfast. Psychologically a game on ‘home soil’ provides a massive boost for players and talk of moving the game to another venue outside Northern Ireland would be costly for fans to attend and a potential PR disaster.
While we wait for the report from the structural engineers into the situation at Windsor Park perhaps we should explore the viability of staging the match at Ravenhill (or the Kingspan Stadium as it is now known).
Ravenhill was redeveloped with the assistance of £14.5m in funding from the Northern Ireland executive and with a capacity of over 18,000 is surely more than capable of hosting a football match of this importance. It was only in November that Ravenhill hosted a charity GAA match to raise awareness for Motor Neurone Disease.
What do you think?