Mike Nesbitt hopes Super Cup ‘buzz’ could have lasting benefits for NI

The “buzz” around Belfast city centre for the Uefa Super Cup match at Windsor Park on Wednesday night could have knock-on benefits for the city’s economy, former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt has said.

Friday, 13th August 2021, 6:33 am
Villarreal fans enjoy the atmosphere in Belfast city centre on Wednesday before the Super Cup match against Chelsea

Mr Nesbitt, who was at the match as Champions League winners Chelsea battled to victory on penalties over Europa League winners Villarreal, expressed hope that many of the fans who soaked in the atmosphere around Belfast will want to return.

“It was a great event,” he told the News Letter. “What really impressed me was being in Belfast city centre with a really great buzz about the place.”

Mr Nesbitt, who sits on Stormont’s economy committee, added: “I think it is a Programme for Government commitment to attract international events to Northern Ireland.

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Mike Nesbitt

“Someone said that we are not going to attract the really, really big stuff – we’re never going to host the World Cup on our own – but there are a lot of things we could continue to pitch for.”

The strategy has proved successful in recent years with the Open golf tournament in Portrush attracting global attention to Northern Ireland, and with the Giro d’Italia achieving similar results back in 2014.

Mr Nesbitt said the “key thing” to achieve as part of the international events strategy is to convince those attending to return.

Asked if Northern Ireland has the infrastructure necessary to continue to attract large events, the MLA said: “The key thing is to try to get people to come back, and no one is going to come back just for the infrastructure, but there is a minimum level of infrastructure you need in order to attract something like the Open golf tournament to Portrush or the Super Cup to Windsor Park.”

The former BBC sport football commentator continued: “Back when I was commentating Windsor Park was not the national stadium that it is today and would never, I don’t think, have been considered for the Super Cup.

“So infrastructure is definitely part of the mix. If you’re doing something like the Open, you need hotels, you need a road structure. Now, you don’t necessarily need super fast highways but you need a certain level of infrastructure as part of the mix.

“But the most important part of the mix is that everybody leaves thinking ‘wow, that was a great experience, I really enjoyed that, the people are wonderful and I’d really love to come back’.”

He added: “And after the Super Cup, some of the fans were saying ‘I wish I’d come for longer’.

“They came for the football, not expecting the experience, so hopefully they come back.”