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Euro 2016: Boucher Playing Fields to host Belfast fanzone for Northern Ireland v Wales and Republic of Ireland v France

By Allan Preston and Jonny Bell

Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland football fans will be watching the historic Euro 2016 clashes this weekend at the new fanzone venue at Boucher Road Playing Fields.

There has been outrage over the last 24 hours after it emerged the fanzone could not be held at Titanic Belfast due to clash with a Belsonic concert.

Belfast City Council has confirmed that Boucher Road Playing Fields will be the official Fanzone this weekend for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland's games.

Further details were confirmed on Friday.

Gates to the fanzone will open at 3pm on Saturday and 12 noon on Sunday.  Admission will be on a first-come-first-served basis, and site capacity is limited.

There will be no parking at the site.  Free shuttle bus services will operate between Donegall Square East and Boucher Road, starting 15 minutes before gates open each day.

There will be full bar and catering facilities on site.  No alcohol will be allowed to be brought on to the site.

The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alderman Brian Kingston, said: "Boucher Road is a great site, accessible to all parts of the city, and beyond.  By locating the fanzone here, the Council is ensuring as many fans as possible get the chance to continue to demonstrate their phenomenal support for both teams as they enter this crucial knock-out stage.

"I would like to pay tribute to the team behind the Titanic Fanzone for the tremendous work they did during the qualifying round, and for all the hands-on support they have given us in relation to putting this new fanzone together in such a short period of time."

The playing fields at Boucher have in the past played host to music festival Tennent's Vital.

It is believed that to stage the fanzone it will cost the council around £100,000, and that bar facilities have not yet been agreed.

Earlier First Minister Arlene Foster has said a resolution has been found in relation to finding a Belfast venue for fans looking to watch Northern Ireland's historic Euro 2016 clash with Wales.

Angry football supporters hit out at the possibility that there would be no fanzone in Belfast for Northern Ireland's most important match in decades.

However vowing to find a resolution, the First Minister tweeted this morning, "It will be sorted".

Announcing the move, the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alderman Brian Kingston said it was a "great site".

He said: "The Fan Zone at Titanic Quarter, operated by the organisers of the Belsonic festival, was a terrific success during the qualifying round.  However, as it was known that the Titanic site would not be available past the qualifying rounds, the Council was working behind the scenes to identify a suitable alternative site.

“Boucher Road is a great site, accessible to all parts of the city, and beyond. By locating the Fan Zone here, the Council is ensuring as many fans as possible get the chance to continue to demonstrate their phenomenal support for both teams as they enter this crucial knock-out stage.”

Full details about gate opening times and entry terms will be published on the Belfast City Council website on Friday morning.

Arlene Foster 'great news'

Speaking previously Mrs Foster said she was glad a resolution had been found.

She said: "I'm very pleased there is a resolution and that will be great news for all the fans who have been so faithful in relation to supporting their teams.

"I'm very pleased we have found a resolution. City Council have stepped in with conjunction with ourselves and I hope it provides a suitable place for all of the fans to enjoy the football."

Earlier and speaking from France on the BBC's Stephen Nolan show, deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he and the First Minister would work to find a venue for both the Northern Ireland and the Republic's game.

Mr McGuinness said the fans' behaviour over the course of the tournament had been "heartwarming".

The Finance Minister, Mairtin O Muilleoir had also asked his staff to look at the possibility of Stormont being a venue "if other options fall through".

The SSE Arena had been raised as a possible alternative venue for the popular Titanic fanzone for Northern Ireland's last 16 Euro 2016 clash against Wales.

Speaking earlier Mr Kingston stressed that it was not the council that had taken the lead on the matter and suggested an alternative venue may need to have an entry fee whereas the Belsonic fanzone was free.

He also said other options, such as a park or even city hall would not be possible in such a short space of time given the logistics and capacity required.

Previously fans had called for Windsor Park to be made available, however, the IFA ruled this out.

Organisers 'did not dare to dream'

Fans have criticised the lack of planning, stating the organisers - who run both the Belsonic festival and fanzone - did not "dare to dream" that Michael O'Neill's men would reach the knock-out stage.

The packed fanzone at the Titanic Quarter in Belfast has been one of the most memorable sights of Euro 2016, bringing the excitement of France home for Northern Ireland and Republic football fans.

An estimated 10,000 supporters packed the Belfast fanzone for the match against Germany.

But some fans are now asking why Belsonic organisers didn't believe Northern Ireland would get out of the group stages.

"We were all daring to dream, so they should have had a plan in place," said Naomi Fox (31) from Magheralin. "Especially with us doing so well and topping our group in the qualifier. That shows what Northern Ireland really can do. They should have had a masterplan in place."

With Northern Ireland breaking through to the last 16, they face Wales on Saturday evening.

At the same time, Scottish rock giants Biffy Clyro will be centre stage at Belsonic.

Yesterday, festival organisers held last minute meetings to meet the overwhelming demand to host another fanzone.

For those hoping to travel to France for the game, ticket details were released at 1pm today on the UEFA portal at www.uefa.com.

Naomi was the first in the fanzone queue for Northern Ireland's Ukraine game.

"I was just so happy when we got through to the last 16," she said. "I was right at the front at the barrier for the Ukraine game and I absolutely loved it. The atmosphere was just fantastic."

She now wants a new fanzone set up inside Windsor Park.

"I actually think Windsor Park would be brilliant because of all the glory nights for home games in the past," she said.

"Everybody knows about the parking down there. I think open it up and create the normal Windsor atmosphere."

Other anxious members of the Green and White Army suggested alternative venues, including Belsonic's previous venue at Belfast's Custom House square - or even the grounds of Stormont.

Peter Moore from Newtownabbey said: "I was hoping to see the match at Titanic Quarter. Unfortunately this is highly doubtful now, with nowhere to watch it other than pubs."

He said he would support a new fanzone at City Hall - "great for local shops" - and Shaftesbury Square - "big open space, easily cleaned" - or simply Windsor Park.

"All that is needed is a large screen. I'm sure people wouldn't mind donating a pound or two towards this."

Stewart Garrett posted on social media: "Please have it in the city centre of Belfast outside City Hall."

Ross Archibald suggested something more revolutionary: "Let's take over Stormont."

Belfast Telegraph