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Euro 2016 tickets: Why were loyal Northern Ireland fans cast aside?

By Steven Beacom

Published 10/02/2016

Northern Ireland fans in the stands prior to the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland fans in the stands prior to the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
A Northern Ireland fan in the stands during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
A Northern Ireland fan in the stands prior to the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
A Northern Ireland fan in the stands prior to the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis in action during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
A Northern Ireland fan in the stands during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Greece fans during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.
A Northern Ireland fan waves the French flag during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.
Boxer Carl Frampton before the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 8, 2015. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.
Pictured is Northern Ireland fans at Ryans Bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Excited Northern Ireland fans before this evenings crucial game against Greece at Windsor Park. Carley Strong and Audrey McClements. Picture Matt Bohill.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/10/2015 Excited Northern Ireland fans before this evenings crucial game against Greece at Windsor Park. Ian Irwin Annette McCauley and Richie Irwin. Picture Matt Bohill.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/10/2015 Excited Northern Ireland fans before this evenings crucial game against Greece at Windsor Park. Jake Quinn and his dad Graham Quinn. Picture Matt Bohill.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/10/2015 Excited Northern Ireland fans before this evenings crucial game against Greece at Windsor Park. Warren Beatty, Laura Jane Kernaghan, Lee Finley, Gareth Mcquillan and Johnny McKinstry. Picture Matt Bohill.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/10/2015 Excited Northern Ireland fans before this evenings crucial game against Greece at Windsor Park. Northern Ireland fans get behind their team on the Lisburn road before the game. Picture Matt Bohill.
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans Lee Leckey and Jonny Wylie at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fan Gareth McQuillan at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans Ian Bannatyne, Ryan Armstrong, Stuart Gowey, Gary Herron, Phil Bannatyne, Billy Rankin and Ian Morrow at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans Adam Shilliday, Stuart Mclees, Trevor Henderson and Glen Muir at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans Ryan Weir, James Irwin and Peter Graham from Omagh at Laverys bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/10/2015 Excited Northern Ireland fans before this evenings crucial game against Greece at Windsor Park. Johnathan Irvine and Oliver Norwoods dad (right) before the match. Picture Matt Bohill.
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans at Ryans Bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Thursday 8th October 2015 - Belfast Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland vs Greece FANS Pictured is Northern Ireland fans at Ryans Bar in Belfast ahead of the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park. Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Northern Ireland fan Christian king during Thursday nights UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifier against Greece at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry / PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 08th October 2015 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland fans Christian king and George king during Thursday nights UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifier against Greece at Windsor Park, Belfast.
Stephen Warke getting in the mood for Northern Ireland v Greece
Colin (@ards1985) via Twitter: watching hopefully later in sunny Orlando with @kirstywoo85
Actor Glenn Speers (@GlennSpeers) via Twitter: I'll be following score in my dressing room in The Commitments at The Palace Theatre London
Euro 2016 Qualifier - Northern Ireland Vs Hungary at Windsor Park, Belfast. Northern Ireland legend David Healy watching the match with fans. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
J McLorn with his son David at Windsor Park. Pic: J McLorn
Northern Ireland fans during this evenings game at Windsor park. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans during this evenings game at Windsor park. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's fans during the game at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photo David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's fans during today's game at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photo David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's fans before the game at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photo David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland's fans before the game at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photo David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans George King with twin son's Mason and Christain before the match against Hungary during Monday night's UEFA EURO 2016 Group F Qualifier at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park, Belfast. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Northern Ireland fans (L-R) Charlotte Cummings with her father Paul and sister Zoe from Antrim. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Mason King (12) with his father George King, twin brother Christian and Daren Leighton from Donegal Pass. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Northern Ireland fans (L-R) Ethan Gibson(14), Lewis Orr-McCauley(16), Mathew Gibson(12), Samantha Orr-McCauley(6) and Grant Orr-McCauley(11). Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Northern Ireland v Hungary at Windsor Park, Belfast. Northern Ireland fans Mark Paul with his son Rhys and Gary from Newtownabbey. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Northern Ireland fan Daniel Gracey (5) Ballymoney during Monday night's UEFA EURO 2016 Group F Qualifier at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park, Belfast. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Buddy and Mylo watching at home. Photo: Kristine Hill
David McLorn before going to Windsor Park. Photo: J McLorn
Rory Beattie (8 months) getting ready to watch the match. Photo: Linda Taylor
Husband and wife Neil and Lorainne Fentie are looking forward to the big match against Hungary at Windsor Park. Picture Matt Bohill.
Northern Ireland fans Matthew Kernaghan, James Abraham, Ryan Blakely and Ben Speers cant wait for the big match at Windsor Park. Photo: Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press.
Little Jake Quinn who is to lead out the Hungarian national team at Windsor Park cheers on Northern Ireland on top of his dad Graham Quinn's shoulders. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill ahead of the match against Hungary during Monday night's UEFA EURO 2016 Group F Qualifier at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park, Belfast. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Northern Ireland Niall McGinn, Stuart Dallas and Josh Magennis ahead of the match against Hungary during Monday night's UEFA EURO 2016 Group F Qualifier at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park, Belfast. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Northern Ireland players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Northern Ireland players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Hungary manager Bernd Storck during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Hungary players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Hungary players during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Hungary manager Bernd Storck during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland's Stuart Dallas during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Hungary manager Bernd Storck during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland's Chris Baird during Sundays training session at Windsor Park ahead of Monday nights Euro 2016 Qualifier against Hungary.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill (right) at this morning's training session - Hungary awaits. Picture - David Hunter.
Hungary on the horizon as Northern Ireland train at Windsor Park. Picture - David Hunter.

Tuesday morning. Thousands of Northern Ireland supporters woke up to find an email from Uefa in their inbox. 'Happy Days, this is it... confirmation of my tickets for Euro 2016' was what went through minds as excited fans opened the correspondence from European football's governing body.

For many there was that feeling of joy. They got what they wanted. Tickets to see Northern Ireland take on Poland, Ukraine and Germany.

But for others there was disappointment, frustration and anger as they were informed their application had been unsuccessful.

Given that 50,000 applications had been made for 29,000 tickets, there were always going to be some who would miss out on the prize.

But with a priority scheme, worked on by the Irish FA in conjunction with Uefa, supposedly in operation to reward the most loyal of fans, there was shock when it emerged that hundreds of supporters who had religiously followed the team home and away in the joyous Euro 2016 qualifying campaign were told they would not be going to the ball after all.

Outrage. Fans were fuming and rightly so. They had waited their whole lives for a day like this when they could dream about going to see Northern Ireland in a big tournament. This should have been a day to celebrate. Instead it became a day of despair.

Some 'block bookers' (season ticket holders for Northern Ireland games) didn't get tickets for ANY of the three group games, though the main problem related to the match against Poland in Nice on June 12, Northern Ireland's first game ever in the European Championships and their first in a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup.

As the morning passed, and with social media in a frenzy, word got out that hundreds upon hundreds of supporters, who had acquired a large number of points in the priority scheme, had been passed over for the historic game with the Poles, yet others who had never been to a Northern Ireland game had been given the all clear to see Michael O'Neill's men try to stop Robert Lewandowski.

So much for the priority booking scheme trumpeted by the IFA to reward 'our loyal supporters'.

The IFA, Uefa, the Belfast Telegraph and other media organisations were inundated by infuriated supporters demanding answers.

Amid the storm, IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson told this newspaper that he had been in contact with Uefa to tell them to resolve a problem that was becoming more contentious by the second.

Tellingly, he added: "The priority system was supposed to reward our most loyal supporters. We did some checks of the data ourselves and we were confident that the right people would get the tickets. The early indications would suggest that the system has not been applied properly."

A few hours later after more calls between the IFA and Uefa, suddenly a rabbit was pulled out of the hat. As if by magic, another 1,000 tickets were found for those "Northern Ireland fans at the top of the IFA's priority list".

Incredible. It begs the questions how many other spare tickets do Uefa have lying around for emergencies?

And why wasn't this sorted out properly in the first place? Without the emotional reaction from the fans, I doubt anyone would have cared. Fan power proved the difference here. GAWA 1 Uefa 0 but there should not have been a need for a battle.

Last night Nelson was making the point that no mistakes had been made in terms of the loyalty system where the IFA and Uefa were concerned in contrast to his earlier comments.

Uefa themselves stated that "the loyalty scheme for all matches had been implemented according to the scheme provided by the IFA" so how did they get it so wrong that they were forced into throwing around another 1,000 tickets like they meant nothing?

Uefa made a mess of it. The IFA, who admittedly worked quickly to try and resolve the problem once they realised there was one, aren't blameless either though.

There is a sense that the Association's lack of experience in dealing with major tournaments has not helped.

No wonder fans have been left with a sour taste. Loyalty was not rewarded, just given a kick in the teeth. Uefa have said they will contact supporters by the end of the month to dish out the extra tickets, but the fans won't believe that until they see another email.

Reports in Wales last night suggested there were similar problems for their fans over their priority based system while this week Republic of Ireland followers will discover if they are going to France.

They too operate a loyalty system with season ticket holders, regular away travellers and official supporters clubs told by the FAI they will have priority. We shall see.

For many Northern Ireland fans, France still beckons. They will back the team better than they were supported by the authorities.

Belfast Telegraph

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