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Northern Ireland legends help open new-look national football stadium

By Adrian Rutherford

Northern Ireland’s new-look national football stadium has opened with a parade of sporting stars.

Boxer Carl Frampton, former snooker world champion Dennis Taylor and Olympic star Mary Peters were among an all-star cast at the redeveloped Windsor Park.

They took part in a lap of legends ahead of the World Cup qualifier against San Marino.

Also present were First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

The IFA received £28.75million from the Executive towards the stadium redevelopment which now has a seating capacity of 18,500.

Speaking ahead of the match Arlene Foster said:  “It is a privilege to be here this evening to mark the official opening of our National Stadium at Windsor Park.

“The transformation has been remarkable and Northern Ireland, along with first class fans, now has a truly first class venue as its home of football.”

Also present was FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

He said: “With this project the Irish Football Association is both safeguarding its historical legacy and reshaping its football home in a way that fits the country’s needs.

“Windsor Park has been transformed into a compact, world class stadium. It is a smart and sustainable solution, and I am honoured to be here in Belfast to see this project come to life.

“Congratulations Northern Ireland. May the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park be the stage for unforgettable matches and moments for many years to come.”

Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson said the stadium was a fitting home for Northern Ireland’s involvement in the number one sport in the world.

He added: “The National Football Stadium is not just a building but a symbol of hope and aspiration for the new Northern Ireland we are all part of.”

The redevelopment project, which took 29 months to complete, has seen three new stands – East, South and West – built at the stadium, while seating in the ground’s existing North Stand has been refurbished and a new covered walkway added.

A total of 1,292 people worked on the construction project, from designers to builders, and between them they clocked up 754,400 work hours. Around 1,900 lorry loads of concrete were used – circa 25,000 tonnes – as well as 186,000 bricks.

After taking part in the official opening, Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness watched the match.

The DUP leader added: “The Northern Ireland Executive’s contribution of £28.75m has helped deliver this magnificent outcome and I congratulate everyone involved in the development of our new National Stadium.

“There is no doubt that this Summer’s Euro 2016 finals were transformative for Northern Ireland football and this wonderful new facility is reflective of our pride and ambition to take Northern Ireland to the next level.

“I have no doubt this magnificent new stadium will see many great sporting occasions in the years to come.”

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also spoke of his pride.

“In France this summer Michael O’Neill and his team proved they were a class act both on and off the pitch and I’m delighted they now have a world class stadium to match,” he said.

“The Executive’s investment of nearly £30m will reap massive social, economic and cultural benefits.

“Tonight’s opening completes the second part of a three stadia Programme for Government commitment and I look forward to Casement Park coming to fruition during this Assembly term.

“Sport has the ability to break down barriers on and off the pitch and the IFA deserves great credit for its tireless efforts to rid sport of sectarianism, racism and homophobia. 

“Their work goes beyond the gates of Windsor Park and ripples out into wider society building friendships and the community. The financial support we have provided towards this stadium is an investment in a more inclusive, shared society.”

Also attending the official opening was Sports Minister Paul Givan.

He added: “This new state of the art stadium marks a new and exciting beginning not only for the Northern Ireland football team but for the whole community,” he said.

“This is a very special and proud day for all those who have worked tirelessly to turn the vision of a National Stadium into a reality.”

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