1,000 people back petition to show NI match on big screen
Almost 1,000 Northern Ireland fans have signed a petition demanding that the crucial European Championship qualifier against Greece be shown on the big screen at Belfast City Hall.
The Irish Football Association (IFA) had already applied to the city council, but it withdrew last week due to fears over the price.
It would cost at least £25,000 to screen the event next Thursday, mainly due to the fee payable Sky to broadcast it, but also for a secondary screen, security, and health and safety issues.
Disappointed fans who had earlier vented their anger online have now set up a petition demanding that the match be shown, and many have also contacted the council to complain. But a spokeswoman for the council said it did not own the right to broadcast the game. "We only show free-to-air content," she added.
IFA Chief Patrick Nelson hit out at the price and said: "After consulting with commercial partners, as well as Belfast City Council, it quickly became clear that the costs involved in putting on the event were prohibitive."
He also pointed out that the IFA had made available a further 1,500 tickets to see the match live at Windsor Park.
A petition launched by fans online said not screening the match was a "kick in the teeth".
"I think that given that this is our national football team who are very close to qualifying for the biggest tournament finals they have been in since 1986, it should most definitely without a doubt be shown," the petition reads.
"It is a disgrace and a kick in the teeth for not only the supporters but also for the players who should be praised for what they have achieved," it read.
"Ordinary people should be allowed to cheer on our national football team in our own back yard- ie the City Hall grounds."
But PUP councillor Billy Hutchinson defended the council and said Sky had the broadcasting rights. He added that if the match was being shown on BBC, the council would be able to play it on the big screen.
The extra tickets for the Greece fixture will only go to fans on the IFA's mailing list, who will be sent a priority link to purchase them. Fans can sign up at www.irishfa.com/mailinglist. Tickets will be sold on a first come, first served basis from 10am this Thursday. Tickets will be limited to two per applicant. They are priced £40 each and are subject to a Ticketmaster booking fee.