Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Windsor's wall of fame a crying shame

Lick of paint: The wall featuring Northern Ireland football icons is in desperate need of a facelift

Glorious night at Windsor Park last week. Northern Ireland's 1-0 World Cup triumph over Fabio Capello's Russia was a joy to watch.

Truth be told a scoreline of 3-0 would have been a fairer reflection.

We outfought, out thought and outplayed them. After all the frustration and pain of recent years, it was a sight for sore eyes...

It was the perfect evening. Almost.

You see, something irked me when I was wandering towards the stadium to report on the match. As you walk into Windsor there's a nearby wall with paintings of Northern Ireland greats on it.

It's a mural that nobody could take offence at – mind you, this is Northern Ireland so you never know – and features football icons of our wee country; Peter Doherty, Danny Blanchflower, Billy Bingham, George Best, Pat Jennings and David Healy.

When it was first unveiled back in 2005, there was much excitement and a genuine feeling of pride among Northern Ireland supporters that here was acknowledgement in artistic form of some of our finest sporting heroes close to the venue where they thrilled us so many times.

It came about after a local community group contacted Michael Boyd, then the respected Community Relations Officer at the IFA.

He in turn called me about running a poll in the Belfast Telegraph in order to ascertain which Northern Ireland football personalities the fans identified with most as they would form the images on the wall.

Thousands upon thousands of readers got involved.

It was a feelgood project giving supporters an opportunity to be part of something special, something important, something long lasting.

Local primary school children painted the first coat on the wall before gifted artists took over, sketching images of Doherty, Blanchflower, Bingham, Best and Jennings.

Healy's face was added a couple of years later, by which time he had already put the likes of England and Spain to the sword.

There was great affection for the team back then with the 'Wall of Fame' an uplifting vision as supporters made their way to home games.

The rot set in for the side a few years ago and you could say the same for the mural.

Once a piece of outstanding artwork, it looks a mess now.

Even the Mona Lisa, protected by bulletproof glass in the Louvre Museum in Paris, is touched up to keep it in pristine condition, so an outdoor wall battered by all the natural elements that Northern Ireland brings is obviously going to require some care and attention.

Unfortunately, though, the mural has just been left to fade away.

You can see from our picture that graffiti has been sprayed on to it and an unsightly orange tango look has crept up the bricks covering big Pat, Peter, Danny, King David and Bingy.

Bestie, with that mercurial ability to weave his way out of trouble, has somehow managed to escape relatively unscathed, avoiding the rustic look.

All in all though it's a desperate sight. The Windsor 'Wall of Fame' has become a crying shame.

With the structure not being in the confines of Windsor Park, there is debate over who has ownership of this issue.

In my view, the Irish FA should show leadership and do something about it.

The team restored pride by beating Russia last week and ahead of next month's match with Portugal, seven years to the day since Healy struck a hat-trick to defeat Spain, the IFA should attempt to restore pride in the wall and see what can be done to turn this eyesore into what it was supposed to be in the first place... a monument to Northern Ireland football legends.

Moving forward with the new stadium at Windsor Park, lessons MUST be learned to avoid this embarrassment in the future.

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), the IFA and local community workers have already held meetings to discuss developing new iconic images which will surround the new stadium.

When those are decided upon and our heroes are put on show for all to see, let's look after them a little better this time.

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