Temporary seating could rescue Windsor’s Euro qualifer

Safety fears over West Stand after cracks spotted
Safety fears over West Stand after cracks spotted

The Irish Football Association is urgently considering its options for staging a crunch Euro 2016 qualifying game, now that the demolition of a Windsor Park grandstand looks certain.

With only eight weeks to go before Northern Ireland hosts Romania in a top of Group F clash, they include the erection of thousands of temporary seats, or fast-tracking the completion of the new Railway Stand.

Patrick Nelson, Irish Football Association

Patrick Nelson, Irish Football Association

The IFA is studying the recommendations in a engineer’s report on the damaged West Stand - discovered to be suffering cracks and other structural damage just days after it was packed with fans for Northern Ireland’s victory over Finland last month.

IFA chief executive Patrick Nelson has said their “only focus” at present was to hold the game at the national stadium.

Many Northern Ireland fans have voiced concerns at the uncertainty surrounding the staging of the game on June 13 - given the closure of the 5,000-seat West Stand - at a venue already operating at a greatly reduced capacity due to renovation work.

Reliable sources have confirmed it is inevitable the stand will have to be demolished and that contacts between the IFA, contractors O’Hare & McGovern and the insurance company are ongoing.

It is also understood that if capacity cannot be brought up to at least 10,000, then the IFA will consider approaching Ulster Rugby to secure the use of the Kingspan at Ravenhill.

The east Belfast venue was inspected and approved by UEFA last summer as a suitable stadium for European football if required and is known to be available during June.

European football’s governing body has said it is monitoring developments at Windsor, but officials are not yet unduly worried about a lack of a confirmed venue.

“We are in contact with the Northern Ireland football federation and, of course, we are aware of the situation and the state of the stadium,” a UEFA spokeswoman told the News Letter.

“For the moment, there is still time for improvement,” she added.

Speaking to the BBC, IFA chief executive Patrick Nelson said they were “working very hard to make sure the [Romania] game is played at Windsor”.

He said the tie taking place at the national stadium was their “primary focus”, despite the damage.

On Thursday, a spokeswoman for the IFA would not be drawn on a timeframe for the structural engineer’s report to be acted upon, but said: “The Irish FA has received a preliminary report on the damage caused to the West Stand of the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park and is currently studying the findings of this report.”