Next stage of Windsor Park stadium revamp gets under way

David Healy scores THAT goal against England
David Healy scores THAT goal against England

Work started on Monday to demolish the South Stand in the next stage of the £35m redevelopment of Windsor Park.

The work is being carried out by the Newry construction company O’Hare & McGovern.

Work gets under way on the South Stand at Windsor Park

Work gets under way on the South Stand at Windsor Park

Senior members of the company in charge of the project as well as senior Irish FA and Linfield officials looked on as a section of cladding was pulled away.

Cathal O’Hare, a contracts manager with the firm said: “One of the most famous stands in Belfast is about to vanish to make way for a world class facility.”

The stand at Linfield’s home ground is over 100 years old.

A demolition excavator with a 24 metre arm was brought in to rip down metal casing on the east side.

The first part of the stand was erected in 1909 – four years after Linfield played their first match at Windsor Park, defeating city rivals Glentoran 1-0.

Gate receipts that day were £113. Further sections were added including a stand purchased from the then Royal Ulster Agriculture grounds at Balmoral.

Before Monday’s work got underway hundreds of seats in the old stand were removed and sold off, the overwhelming majority to Linfield fans who donated a minimum £5 for each seat, the proceeds going towards the club’s nominated charity, the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice.

What was left of the old Railway Stand as well as the club’s social club have already been knocked down and the rubble dumped. It is expected to take eight weeks to complete the demolition of the South Stand, which includes the directors and Press boxes.

Linfield’s administrative offices as well as the club’s changing rooms and boardroom which are underneath the stand beyond the main entrance and lobby will go. In the meantime staff will operate from temporary accommodation.

Mr O’Hare added: “The old stand will undoubtedly hold many, many great memories, especially for those fans who were in their seats in 1982 and 1986 when Northern Ireland qualified for the World Cup. And of course, who will ever forget the night David Healy’s goal defeated England when the place shook to its foundations.

“I suppose it’s sad to witness a piece of soccer history vanish from the city skyline.However, this stand has clearly had its day. It built and developed in the 1900’s, but the new state of the art stadium will meet the needs of the 21st century. It is going to look amazing and will be a key factor in the regeneration of this particular part of south Belfast.

“We have a tight schedule, but the redevelopment is going according to plan and O’Hare & McGovern are fully confident we will finish on time. We’ve a great team in place.”

The North and West stands are to undergo massive refurbishment before the new stadium is ready next October. Up to 32 long-term unemployed as well as 19 apprentices will be among the workforce. A group of teenagers linked to the Prince’s Trust who are considering a possible future in the construction industry are also been given supervised access to the site for three weeks.

Undersoil heating has been installed and the new pitch is due to be ready in time for Linfield’s Irish Premiership game against Warrenpoint Town in mid-September. The team’s first seven matches of the season will be played away from home.

IFA secretary Patrick Nelson was at Windsor Park on Monday to witness the start of the demolition work. Northern Ireland play their first home Euro 2016 qualifier against the Faroe Island at Windsor on October 11.

A Linfield FC spokesman said: “It is sad to see the end of what has been an important vantage point for so much drama and history and there will be many grown men shedding tears as this familiar sight disappears.

“We are bidding farewell to a dear friend which has served this club and its supporters well and looking forward to a new dawn.”