Belfast Telegraph

Uefa forced the IFA into holding Sabbath game: first played on a Sunday at Windsor Park

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 qualifier against Finland will see history created. It'll be the country's 600th game in international football and perhaps even more importantly the first played on a Sunday at Windsor Park.

It's been a long time coming. Outside the stadium there will be protests from people on religious grounds. Inside 10,000 Northern Ireland supporters will be roaring their team on.

The Sunday game has got people talking this week.

It was the same on September 13, 2013 when I broke the story in the Belfast Telegraph that Northern Ireland would play at Windsor on a Sunday for the first time in early 2015, due to the new way Uefa were compiling fixture dates to maximise TV revenue and exposure for their tournament.

I received numerous messages and emails from readers with varying views on the back page exclusive. Many thought it was garbage and that it would never happen.

FIVE months later the story was confirmed when Uefa revealed their Euro 2016 group fixtures with one standing out - Northern Ireland v Finland, Sunday March 29 2015.

Cue more outrage from some, acceptance from others and a feeling of relief in the Irish FA that their veto on playing home internationals on a Sunday had been lifted a few years before.

It's worth noting that the decision to play this game on a Sunday was purely down to Uefa, not the IFA.

For decades no Sunday football was allowed in Northern Ireland at all, though the international team did play away games on the Sabbath, most notably during the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain when Glentoran winger Johnny Jameson turned down a place on the bench against France because he was a born again Christian.

Everything changed after an IFA EGM in November 2007 when a proposal to scrap the ban was successful with 91 of the 115 eligible voters backing the decision - and this after the motion had been defeated at the association's AGM just a few months earlier.

Since that EGM eight years ago, there have been very few Irish League games on a Sunday. Linfield, who play their club football at Windsor, for instance are not interested in playing on that day, but their ground will host the historic occasion this weekend.

Raymond Kennedy was the IFA President in 2007. He recalls: "The first time it was proposed at an AGM, it was turned down. The next time around we brought it up again and it went through.

"We stated we weren't asking or telling clubs to play Sunday football. We were simply lifting the veto to give them the choice and I believe all these years on we made the right decision.

"I was at the Uefa meeting in Greece in 2010 when plans were drawn up for the present set up in relation to TV rights.

"Can you imagine if the veto on Sunday football had still been in place when the Euro 2016 fixtures came out? The IFA would have been in a really tricky spot, so it is good that we have it in place now."

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