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Windsor Park will be ready for Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifying campaign

By Steven Beacom

Published 23/07/2015

Roar: Kop fans enjoy Kyle Lafferty's goal versus Finland
Roar: Kop fans enjoy Kyle Lafferty's goal versus Finland
Russia bound: Jim Shaw will be at the World Cup draw

Irish FA President Jim Shaw has revealed that the new 18,000 seater Windsor Park, complete with a rebuilt Kop Stand, will be ready by the time the World Cup qualifying campaign begins in September next year.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's draw in Russia for the 2018 World Cup qualifying groups, Shaw's comments offer Northern Ireland fans some much needed clarity.

Earlier this year, with new stands being built in other parts of Windsor, the Kop had to demolished after cracks were found in its structure two days after Northern Ireland defeated Finland 2-1 in a Euro 2016 qualifier in March.

Since then, questions have been asked about when the Kop would be rebuilt and the stadium's 18,000 capacity would be reached.

IFA President Shaw told the Belfast Telegraph: "By the time we play in the World Cup we will have an 18,000 seater stadium. The World Cup fixtures start in the second half of next year so I would be concerned if we didn't have the stadium completed by then."

There is also a chance that Windsor could be finished early enough to stage a home friendly in front of 18,000 fans just weeks before the Euro 2016 finals should Northern Ireland qualify.

Michael O'Neill's men are well placed to make next year's tournament and if successful, the IFA would seek to play a high profile friendly at Windsor in late May or early June, allowing supporters to give the team a big send off prior to travelling to France.

It was in May last year that work on the £25million Windsor redevelopment began with Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) funds being used to rebuild the South Stand and old Railway Stand as well as put new seating in the North and Kop Stands. The completion date was set for November 2015 and all was going according to plan until the Kop had to come tumbling down.

When that happened, work on the South and East (Railway) Stands was accelerated by the building contractors O'Hare and McGovern in order to house 10,000 fans inside Windsor for the scoreless Euro 2016 qualifier against Romania in June.

As for the latest developments at the ground, Shaw said: "Work is continuing on the South Stand and the seats that were used in the North Stand for our match with Romania have now gone.

"They have been replaced by the same type of seats put in the East (old Railway) Stand for that game with Romania. That was always the intention when we started the reconstruction work to have new seats in all parts of the ground, including the North Stand and the West (Kop) Stand had it stayed up.

"The East Stand from a spectator point of view is finished though there is still work to be done behind the Stand in terms of offices being there.

"The planned reconstruction, which was the DCAL sponsored work, is still scheduled to finish on time, that is the South Stand, the East Stand and the refurbishment of the North Stand. That will be finished before the end of this year.

"Those at Windsor for the Romania game will have seen that the front nine rows of the West Stand are still standing. We are still in discussions as to whether they come down or whether they are part of the replacement Stand."

Discussions are also continuing about who was at fault for the Kop problems. The official line is 'still to be determined'.

While knowing that the Northern Ireland Executive won't be shelling out more millions to re-build the Kop, the IFA are confident that their insurance will cover the costs.

It is unlikely that extra seats for Northern Ireland's next home match, a crucial Euro qualifier versus Hungary on September 7, exactly 10 years on from a famous 1-0 victory over England at Windsor, will be available.

"I don't think we will have any additional seats in the South Stand before the Hungary game. It will be similar to what we had for Romania which was just over 10,000," said Shaw, who will be in Russia for Saturday's World Cup draw along with IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson and David Currie, the IFA's Head of International Administration.

Northern Ireland's opponents will be known on Saturday but the fixture dates won't be released until Sunday with the first game at Windsor set to be in September.

Meanwhile, the IFA should hear today if they are to face any punishment from Uefa following the Windsor qualifier in June when a firework was thrown inside the ground, injuring local photographer Darren Kidd. Video evidence showed that the firework came from the section containing Romania fans.

The incident is on the agenda to be discussed by the Uefa Disciplinary Committee, which will decide if the IFA should be punished for having a firework thrown inside their home stadium. The IFA hope and believe that if any punishment is handed out, it will not be severe.

Belfast Telegraph

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