Belfast Telegraph

Windsor rescued by Platini cash boost

By Graham Luney

The famous old stadium in south Belfast has a special place in the hearts of Northern Ireland fans and clearly UEFA President Michel Platini feels it’s worth saving.

It’s well documented that Windsor Park needs more than just a lick of paint to sustain international football.

With health and safety regulations threatening to pull down the shutters, the Irish FA knew they couldn’t afford to stand still.

A £500,000 cash injection to carry out remedial work at least represents a small step along the road that will hopefully see Windsor transformed into a safer and more attractive sporting environment.

Fans could hear IFA President Raymond Kennedy breathe a huge sigh of relief yesterday as he disclosed details of the rescue plan.

Platini formed an affinity with Northern Ireland football when he attended the International Board meeting at the Slieve Donard in Newcastle last year and then on to the Portadown-Newry CIS Cup Final at Mourneview.

Thanks to him, UEFA has donated half a million US dollars (£306,000) towards the project with Government picking up the rest, through Sport NI.

Platini’s personal involvement is ironic as Glentoran recently penned a letter to the UEFA chief highlighting how Linfield — owners of the stadium — enjoy a healthy financial relationship with the Irish FA over Windsor Park.

Linfield pocketed £400,000 last year under an agreement with the IFA to use the club's ground for Northern Ireland games.

Work on the North Stand roof and at the front of the North and West Stands — as the moats are replaced by walkways — will start on May 24 and be completed before the European Championship 2012 qualifiers which kick off on September 7.

The current capacity of Windsor is 13,500 and Kennedy hopes that will remain the case in September, with a further upgrade to 20,000 if further Government cash is forthcoming.

Kennedy said: “This is great news for Northern Ireland fans as it means international football can carry on at Windsor Park and the European Championship qualifiers can be staged at the venue.

“Michel Platini and our Government have very kindly contributed money so this vital work can be carried out.

“It is a short-term fix. We are only talking about a limited amount of work to satisfy health and safety requirements.

“Spectators must have access in and out of the venue at the front of the stands and that’s why the walkways are being put in.”

Once the Maze project collapsed, Government expressed a desire to see the major sports invest in their own facilities.

Windsor Park could be in line for a major makeover in the long-term — possibly costing around £20million — with new stands replacing the old South and Railway Stands.

However, the Irish FA still have to reach an agreement with Linfield on the ground use.

The Blues have indicated they would be prepared to renegotiate their contract with the IFA, which has 80 years to run. A ‘new arrangement’ could replace it, with Linfield suggesting a holding company is formed, complete with a stadium manager and a board, including representatives from the IFA and the Government body Sport NI.

“Talks involving the IFA, Government and Linfield regarding Windsor Park’s future are ongoing, positively,” added Kennedy.

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