Play on! Public back Sunday football at Windsor Park

Spain's versus Northern Ireland at Windsor Park in 2003.
Spain's versus Northern Ireland at Windsor Park in 2003.

There was plenty of public support for Sunday international football at Windsor Park on the streets of Belfast yesterday.

Some Christian groups had expressed their dismay when it emerged that Northern Ireland would play a first ever home match on the Sabbath in March next year.

However, city centre shoppers said they had no problem with the Province falling into line with the rest of Europe on the issue.

Jonny King from east Belfast said calls for the Irish Football Association to lodge an objection were “behind the times”.

He said: “People speaking out against the Sunday match are making us a laughing stock. Nowadays they play Sunday football all over Europe and we’re the only ones making a fuss about it. I’m all for it.”

Natalie Sproule said: “I don’t see what the issue is. The clubs in England play lots of games on Sundays and it’s the same in most other countries so I don’t see the problem with it happening in Northern Ireland.”

Retired Free Presbyterian minister Rev David McIlveen has said there will be protests at the stadium when the Euro 2016 qualifier against Finland takes place next year.

“Having it on a Sunday is actually discriminating against people who are involved in football but who through religious convictions will not take part on a Sunday,” he said.

Kurtis Irvine from Carrickfergus said the objections being raised were a “bit backward”.

He said: “It should be left up to the countries to sort out when the matches are played. I don’t see what the problem is. The game should go ahead.”

Aaron Williams, also from Carrickfergus, said he didn’t really follow football but felt no-one had the right to interfere in the scheduling of international fixtures.

“The idea that this match can’t go ahead on a Sunday is really outdated,” he said.

One motocross enthusiast said his own sport was suffering from a “never on a

Sunday” rule.

Michael Mooney said he supported football, like all other sports, having flexibility, and added: “Down south we can do motocross on a Sunday but not in Northern Ireland. I don’t see the problem – it’s just another day of the week.”

Alan O’Brien from Belfast is another strong advocate.

“In this country people are always trying to find anything to complain about. It’s time people just accepted that this is going to happen and get on with it. I think the bookies should be open [on a Sunday] too.”

Northern Ireland are scheduled to play two other matches on a Sunday during the team’s attempt to qualify for the Euro 2016 finals in France – but both are away from home.

One is away to Finland and the other is against Hungary.

Among the previous away games played on a Sunday was in 2004 when David Healy broke the Northern Ireland goalscoring record in Trinidad and Tobago.

Other internationals on the Sabbath were played during the heroics at the World Cup finals in 1982.

A similar row erupted in Belfast back in 2010 when proposals were announced to hold the annual city marathon on a Sunday – rather than the traditional Bank Holiday Monday in May.

The plan sparked a backlash from some Christian groups and the marathon has continued to take place on the Monday.

The Irish Football Association has said it did not have any say in when the qualifiers would be played, and that there were no plans to appeal against the scheduling.

“You can’t choose dates. The [computer] algorithms determine the dates for the games,” a spokesman said.