Gerry Armstrong: We’re behind the times on Sunday football

Former Northern Ireland international striker Gerry Armstrong
Former Northern Ireland international striker Gerry Armstrong

There is undoubtedly a strong “never-on-a-Sunday” tradition in some quarters in Northern Ireland, but yesterday World Cup hero Gerry Armstrong spoke out in favour of playing Euro 2016 qualifiers on the Sabbath.

A regular commentator on Spanish football for Sky TV, including on Sundays, the legendary figure from Spain 82 believes the Irish FA would be wasting its time arguing for a clash with Finland to be rescheduled.

When the draw was made in France at the weekend, Northern Ireland’s home game against the Scandinavians was listed for March 29, 2015 – the first ever Sunday international to be played in Belfast.

“We are well behind the times on this to be honest,” Armstrong told the News Letter yesterday.

“If they [Uefa] tell the Irish FA that they’re going to have to play on a Sunday, then they’re going to have to play on a Sunday.

“I think it’s just a sign of the times with regards to the authorities and who’s in control.

“In Spain I do games every week on a Sunday – every single week on a Sunday – and in Holland it’s the same. In France they play games on a Sunday and in Italy, as they do all over Europe.

“It is going on in all the other countries for a long time and there’s no hassle, no problem, people just get on with it.”

Avoiding all of Europe’s football superpowers, Northern Ireland have been drawn in Group F along with Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland and the Faroe Islands.

The games away to Finland and Hungary are also scheduled for Sunday kick-offs, but it’s the March home tie against the Finns that is attracting the most controversy.

At least one religious group has already stated its intention to stage a protest outside Windsor Park at the time.

The former Tottenham and Watford striker added: “They’re also playing Sunday games every week in the Premier League [in England] and it’s to do with TV as much as anything.

“FIFA and Uefa dictate when you play these games and you have to stick to the dates.

“I’m already seeing the [Euro] fixtures coming out for the other countries and there are games on a Sunday and nobody is going to bat an eyelid – nobody at all.”

The IFA has stated that it did not have any say in when the matches would be played – and that there was unlikely to be an appeal against the scheduling.

IFA president Jim Shaw said this year’s draw was the first time the Euro qualifying fixture dates had been selected by computer.

“You can’t choose dates,” he said.

“The algorithms determines the dates for the games.

“In the old system all teams came together and chose what dates they would play but this is the first competition where that is no longer the case.”

Optimism over Euro draw

On Northern Ireland’s chances of qualifying for Euro 2016 in France, Armstrong said: “I am optimistic because there are sides there we can go in with confidence against believing we can take points from them, home and away.

“Greece won’t be a walkover, and Finland physically will be very strong, but they are teams we can beat.

“They are all sides on paper we have a chance to do well against. I think we have a great chance so I’m pleased for Michael [O’Neill] and I’m pleased for the players that they’ve got a shout.”