Ambitious Windsor Park refurbishment starting to gather pace

Work is ongoing at Windsor Park
Work is ongoing at Windsor Park

Windsor Park could stand confidently against Wembley and the Oval cricket ground on the quality barometer after major reconstruction work is complete.

Northern Ireland’s international stadium is being thoroughly renovated a new pitch expected to be completed for mid-September, ahead of the home Euro 2016 qualifiers.

It means Linfield will play their first few Irish Premiership games away, although they can expect to return to a greatly modernised facility.

The pitch, which has been removed, is now being levelled and will be seeded next week. It had subsided to three-quarters of a metre lower at the Kop end, than at the Railway end.

Work on the stands will be a more gradual process, and the final completion date is forecast for October 2015.

Contracts manager, Nick Oldfield, said: “We’re now into week four of the contract, and at this stage we’ve removed the old pitch and are levelling out the ground before seeding.

“We’ve also put drainage in and there’s a series of drainage pipes throughout the pitch, which we brought gravel in over, to capture any rainwater in a flood situation, meaning it will run into the gravel and the pitch won’t flood again.”

As this is Oldfield’s first football project, he has been working alongside a Scottish firm, who have played leading roles in developing Wembley, the Oval cricket ground, Hampden Park and Murrayfield, Southampton’s home of St Mary’s and the Ricoh Arena in Coventry.

The north and west stands at Windsor will remain in place, although new seating, floodlights and outside cladding will be installed, and the lower tier of the north stand will finally be reopened to fans.

“Fans couldn’t sit in the lower tier because they could barely see the match,” Oldfield added, “as the pitch wasn’t level.

“Now that’s been done, the advertising hoardings will be moved to pitch level and it should look much better on television from now on.

“Next week we’ll be putting the topsoil in, mixed with fibres to reinforce the soil and then on top we’ll seed it. There’s an eight-week growing period but the first match won’t be played until the middle of September to give the grass an opportunity to settle, grow, be cut and grow back again.

“That’s why Linfield’s first few home games will be played away.

“The pitch is also equipped with undersoil heating; pipes run throughout the undersoil of the grass meaning it will always be fit for use in cold weather, it won’t freeze over.

“Once it’s finished, there won’t be another football ground like it in Northern Ireland.”