New Northern Ireland Kop Stand at Windsor Park will be noisier than ever, says IFA chief Patrick Nelson
The Irish FA are intent on making sure that the new Kop Stand at Windsor Park will never have to be demolished again after confirming it will open in time for the start of Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifying campaign next year.
The famous stand was ripped down in April after structural damage was discovered just days after almost 4,000 fans had been inside it, roaring Michael O'Neill's side on to a vital 2-1 victory over Finland on their way to qualification for the Euro 2016 finals.
In the aftermath, supporters told how they could feel the stand shaking underneath them and knowing what happened next felt extremely fortunate that nobody was seriously injured or worse.
The IFA have made safety their number one priority in the re-build of the Kop which has now been granted approval, with officials at Windsor Avenue determined that what occurred earlier this year will NEVER happen again.
They also believe the new Kop Stand will be even more atmospheric than the one before, though there will be around 300 fewer seats in the latest construction.
The IFA have revealed that the capacity of the new Kop, officially known as the West Stand, is going to be 3,400.
That means come late next year on October 10 when Northern Ireland play San Marino in their first home 2018 World Cup qualifier, some fans used to being at that end of the ground will have to sit elsewhere.
The IFA plan to consult with the supporters on that issue which is sure to provoke debate over who ends up in a different part of the stadium.
Construction work is continuing on other parts of Windsor, as part of a £30million project bankrolled by the Northern Ireland Executive, and is expected to be completed over the next few months.
But the IFA will NOT be asking Stormont for any more money to help with the Kop Stand, which will be funded by insurance.
A statement released by the IFA said: “The National Football Stadium redevelopment is being funded by DCAL and the Northern Ireland Executive. The costs for rebuilding the stand will be met by insurance, meaning that there is no significant impact on the project budget.”
That suggests there will be some sort of impact, but the IFA do not wish to dip into the public purse again knowing they are lucky to have had so much finance handed to them previously.
In terms of there being fewer seats, that is because the seats in the new Kop will be bigger than the originals and there will be slight changes in spacing of the seats.
The IFA are hoping that the way the design will be done for the stand behind the goal will have a similar if smaller effect to the most atmospheric stand at Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion.
If they are right, the acoustics are going to ensure an electric atmosphere.
An IFA source said: “The design of the new West Stand will fit into the universal design of the stadium in terms of comfort, safety and improved sight lines.”
Keen to emphasise the importance of safety, the source added: “The West Stand will be built to the highest safety standard with check and double checks and further checks to ensure it is safe for our supporters.”
IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson said: “I am delighted that work on the rebuilding of the West Stand will start in the coming weeks.
“The newly reconstructed stand will be in line with the new South and East Stands and it will be even better than what was there before.
“With improved sightlines, more comfort for fans and one viewing platform, the new stand will only add to the noise and the legendary atmosphere at that end of the ground.
“As we have seen in recent weeks, the new National Football Stadium is already a fantastic sporting arena.
“When it is completed, it will be the envy of many other Associations around the world and will be a modern, state-of-the-art home for all football in Northern Ireland.”
Meanwhile, block bookers for Northern Ireland home games and fans who attend away matches on a regular basis will be placed at the head of the queue by the IFA for tickets to the Euro 2016 finals in France.
A points system for supporters will be put in place with IFA chiefs working hand in hand with Uefa officials to ensure the loyal fans are rewarded.