Sell out crowds re-ignite national stadium debate

The National Stadium at Windsor Park, Belfast.
The National Stadium at Windsor Park, Belfast.
  • Ex-councillor claims Maze was best option for NI

When the last remaining tickets went on general sale for Northern Ireland’s upcoming World Cup qualifier with Germany they sold out in two minutes.

And such is the demand for Windsor Park tickets as the national team’s fortunes soar, the proposal to relocate to the Maze has raised its head again.

Northern Ireland defeated Czech Republic during Monday night's World Cup qualifier at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland defeated Czech Republic during Monday night's World Cup qualifier at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

A former Lisburn councillor is convinced the former Maze site said would have been the best option while the NI supporters’ clubs chairman believes it is important to maximise the current facility.

The IFA said it expects the new national stadium will see its record attendance for the Germany game on October 5.

A crowd of 18,100 watched the 2-0 victory over Czech Republic 2-0 on Monday, though the IFA said there had been a small number of empty seats.

Around 13,000 of the fans attending the Germany game will be campaign card holders and a further 1,000 will be German fans who have taken their full 5% allocation.

Gary McAllister

Gary McAllister

All the sponsors have also claimed their full allocation.

On Wednesday 1,000 IFA members bought tickets in a 10am pre-sale while the last few hundred sold out in two minutes when they went on sale at 2pm via Ticketmaster.

Ex-councillor Ronnie Crawford said: “Thousands of fans who can’t get a ticket for the Germany game should place the blame firmly at the feet of our short sighted unionist politicians and those NI Supporters Clubs (NISCs) which bitterly opposed the construction of the national stadium at the Maze.”

Mr Crawford said he was part of a Lisburn council delegation that pushed the case at Stormont for a national stadium at the Maze. He claimed Sinn Fein favoured the Maze option but their support was “diluted” by the offer to rebuild Casement Park.

He said: “Consequently, the powerful Belfast lobby has obtained three stadia within Belfast and all with negligible car parking facilities.”

He claimed the limited Windsor Park capacity is depriving the IFA of “a fortune” while benefitting Linfield who own the ground and receive rent from the IFA.

Gary McAllister, chairman of the Amalgamation of Official NISC, said long-term sustainability was all-important .

He added: “With the upturn in fortunes for our team and the accompanying upsurge in demand for tickets, the debate around capacity has been renewed. During a bad spell, the capacity of over 18,000 seats is ample.”

Mr McAllister said that if demand for tickets remains in the longer term, there is scope for a slight increase to the upper tier of the South Stand to take the capacity closer to 20,000.

He said: “I’m a firm advocate of us continually trying to bring through the next generation of ‘lifelong fans’. Whilst any decision around capacity requirements should have that at its heart, it must also be measured on long-term sustainability and demand to avoid an oversized stadium which would create a financial burden for the Irish FA and potentially harm the great atmosphere in the stadium.

“Revisiting an old, divisive debate about location isn’t in anyone’s interests. That debate is behind us and it’s important that we maximise what we now have.”