Northern Ireland Euro 2016 games could be shown on Belfast's big screen if boys make it to France
A plan to show Northern Ireland's climactic Euro 2016 qualifying matches on the big screen at City Hall may have failed, but if our wee country gets through to next year's tournament in France its matches could yet be shown live in the heart of the city.
There was enormous disappointment among Northern Ireland fans last week when an application by the Irish Football Association (IFA) to have the key qualifying match against Greece shown on the big screen at Belfast City Hall was withdrawn.
The IFA had proposed free tickets for 6,000 fans to watch the clash next Thursday. However, it was withdrawn by the IFA last week due to a "prohibitive cost" estimated at more than £25,000 - most of it going to Sky to secure broadcasting rights.
However, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal the council is going to review the matter so that if the side qualifies for the Euros, the matches will be shown on the big screen.
At last night's monthly meeting, Alliance councillor Mervyn Jones said council officers had six months to prepare plans to show the matches. "What we are looking at is something historic - it'd be the first major tournament since 1986," he added. "Something should be done if they get through. There is plenty of time to get something sorted."
The council unanimously supported his proposal.
Many had been hoping to watch the Greece match at City Hall after failing to get tickets. And even when extra tickets were released yesterday, they sold out within three minutes.
Tickets were only available to those who had signed up to the IFA's mailing list. They were provided with a link and a countdown timer, but many fans reported that when they refreshed the page at 10am all the tickets were already gone.
The IFA said there was sufficient demand on the Ticketmaster website to sell in excess of 20,000 tickets, and tickets for the match have already appeared on Gumtree at well over the original £40 price, with some adverts asking for £250 for two.
Capacity at Windsor Park has been reduced during the qualifying campaign due to ongoing redevelopment work. A total of 11,700 tickets were released for the game against Greece - which is far below the capacity of 20,000 when the work is completed in November this year.
Fans who failed to secure tickets yesterday expressed disappointment about the cancellation of plans to show the game on the big screen.
Emma McCloy from Ballinderry said: "I would have gone to City Hall to watch if that were still an option, but I'll have to watch at home or at a bar."
Darren Seaton from Dundonald added: "City Hall would have been good. I have a 10-year-old son I could have taken. I was 10 when we beat Spain in the 1982 World Cup, so it would have been a bit like history repeating."
An IFA spokesman said: "All tickets were snapped up within a few minutes. This left a lot of fans disappointed. The demand shows these are exciting times for Northern Ireland football."
Stephen Rooney from east Belfast:
"I was in the queue from 9.45am waiting on the countdown timer to finish, and as soon as 10am hit, the page refreshed and I was told right away that there were no tickets available. I know I'm not the only one who thinks they have been cheated out of a ticket. Once again the IFA has let their fans down by the shambles of the organisation."
Darren Seaton from Dundonald said he visited the IFA link just after 8am and left the countdown page running:
"When 10am came, the page reloaded and said there were no tickets available. I'm disappointed I won't be there for what could be history in the making, but I knew it was a long shot."
However, a few fans were lucky enough to snap up one of the newly-released tickets.
Alex Turner from Bangor got two tickets. He will be going to the match with fellow long-term supporter Clark Johnson:
"I'm pretty used to getting tickets like this, so I was ready and waiting at 9.30am - I'm absolutely buzzing for the match," Alex said. Clark added: "It's a big night in the history of Northern Ireland football and I'll be happy for the experience no matter the result, but I'm praying we win."
Jamie Gordon from Belfast secured tickets with friends and family, and a group of six of them will be going to the match.
"I feel relieved. My first game was back in 2003 and I've never missed one since then. But I couldn't really make it for this campaign since the capacity had been reduced. It's been difficult."