Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

IFA leads fight for fans left in limbo

The actions of some Serbian fans in Genoa led to the game against Italy being abandoned and subsequently hit Northern Ireland supporters plans to travel to Belgrade in March.

The Irish Football Association is pulling out the stops to avoid the nightmare scenario of having Northern Ireland fans travel to Serbia in March for a game that they won’t be allowed to attend.

A delegation from Windsor Avenue, led by President Jim Shaw, will meet with Uefa chief Michel Platini in Geneva today in an attempt to resolve the issue.

With Uefa ruling that the Euro 2012 qualifier in Belgrade be played behind closed doors, after rioting Serbian fans caused their last Group C game in Italy to be abandoned after just six minutes, there are fears that Northern Ireland fans who have already booked flights will still travel.

And that could land them in serious danger as no security arrangements will be put in place to ensure their safety — as local police won’t be expecting them.

The IFA party is expected to ask Uefa to compensate those fans who have already arranged air travel — some booked as far back as February last year — in order to stop them from being tempted to make the journey independently.

It is estimated that members of the Green and White Army have spent £60,000 in total on flights and accommodation — although some hotel will cancel bookings without charge — and it is anticipated that the IFA will ask Uefa to compensate them for that amount of money.

If that doesn’t happen then they are likely to go down the road of asking for strict security measures to be put in place to either allow a small number of Northern Ireland fans into the stadium or put in place a safety zone within Belgrade where those who travel can watch the match.

“Our fans want to go to the game because they have already arranged flights and there are obvious security concerns,” said Irish FA head of communications Geoff Wilson.

“There are a number of potential solutions and the only way to work something out is to do it face-to-face, which is why a delegation has gone to meet Michel Platini.

“We are doing all we can to help fans and that should be encouraging.

“We are going direct to Uefa to try to reach the best possible solution.

“People have paid for flights and won’t be able to get refunds from their airlines.

“A lot of them will want to go anyway because they won’t get their money back and the last thing we want is for them to be in danger in another country.

“We aren’t 100 per cent certain of the numbers of supporters who are already booked to go to Belgrade for the match, but we have asked via the Amalgamation of Supporters Clubs for fans to inform us.

“We will see what Uefa’s thoughts are before we compile a definitive list.”

Originally Serbia had asked Uefa to allow the game against Italy to be replayed, but that request was swiftly turned down.

Instead the Italians were awarded a 3-0 win, which puts them three points clear at the top of the group.

Serbia have also been banned from taking any fans to their remaining away qualifiers.

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