Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

IFA chiefs square up at match

Heated scene after Northern Ireland game

Stunned onlookers watched as the two most powerful men in Northern Ireland football squared up to each other in an angry confrontation at Windsor Park.

The heated altercation between Irish FA chief executive Howard Wells and the association's honorary president Jim Boyce, occurred in the Linfield boardroom shortly after Northern Ireland's European Championship victory over Liechtenstein on Wednesday night.

But last night Mr Wells denied that the two men had nearly come to blows.

"There was an exchange of words, and as far as I'm concerned the matter is closed," he said.

It is not known what caused the vitriolic exchange, but earlier in the day Mr Boyce spoke of his hurt at not being invited to attend an official IFA function. After being contacted by the Belfast Telegraph last night, Mr Boyce declined to comment.

But former Irish League president Morton McKnight, who witnessed the altercation, said: "I think Jim was upset about something Howard had said earlier, and then he said something to Howard as he was leaving."

Mr McKnight added that he believed Mr Boyce, who was ousted as IFA president recently, is unhappy with the way he has been treated by the association since.

"Most decent thinking people would say it was a dreadful decision to dump him like they did," he said.

"Jim has been mortally wounded. He hasn't been able to live with it well and last night he complained that no-one (from the IFA) contacted him to tell him what his new duties as honorary president were."

He added: "I hope that this rift can be mended."

Two months ago Mr Boyce stood down from his role as IFA president after 12 years and was replaced by Raymond Kennedy.

A secret IFA Council ballot ended in a tie between the two men but Mr Boyce decided to give up the post, stating: "I have got the message. Even if I had got three or four more votes, I realised it was time to go."

Mr Boyce was dealt a further blow on Wednesday when his successor asked him to stay away from a pre-match dinner with officials from the visiting Liechtenstein FA - the sort of function that, as a senior official, he would have attended many times.

"I told Jim Boyce that it would be in my best interests if he did not attend these functions," said Mr Kennedy.

"If Jim attended he would overshadow me. I might as well sit in the car park!"

Ironically, with Mr Wells as chief executive and Boyce as president, the IFA's fortunes blossomed. With the recruitment of Lawrez Sanchez, the international team became a powerful force in world football again.

And, shortly before Mr Boyce stood down as president, the association signed a staggering £10m-plus TV deal with Sky Sports. But sources close to both men said that, outside the IFA's Windsor Avenue headquarters, the pair were not close friends.

Mr Kennedy last night told the Belfast Telegraph: "I've heard many versions of what's supposed to have happened after the game, but I wasn't there so I'm not going to comment."

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