The sheer scale of demand for tickets to Northern Ireland’s crunch Euro qualifier against Greece was laid bare on Thursday.
A fresh batch of 1,500 tickets were all purchased within three minutes of going on sale, and the retailer Ticketmaster said there had been enough demand to sell another 18,500.
This amounts to about 13 fans vying for each of yesterday’s tickets to the Windsor Park clash next Thursday, when a win for Northern Ireland would book their place in next summer’s finals in France.
Gary McAllister, chairman of the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters’ Clubs, said: “I think it seems it’s the highest interest there’s been in one game since the game against England in 2005 in Windsor Park, when the Irish Football Association (IFA) said at that point they could’ve sold Windsor Park out two to three times.”
Next Thursday’s match is the penultimate one in the current campaign, with a trip to Finland following three days later.
Mr McAllister hailed the surge in demand as “very encouraging,” adding that he hopes it carries through to the team’s 2018 World Cup bid.
It is expected that yesterday’s tickets – which were all being sold in pairs – will be the last available, and brings capacity for the game to 11,700 (something which is set to rise to about 18,000 by next autumn ).
A double disappointment for many of those who lost out on tickets is that the giant TV screen at Belfast City Hall will not show the match.
Last night Declan Boyle, SDLP chairman of Belfast City Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, said councillors had unanimously backed the plan, but the IFA was not prepared to fund costs such as stewarding.
Asked if this could change between now and next Thursday, he said: “I don’t think so.”