Belfast Telegraph

IFA come out fighting over Windsor Park stand damage controversy

Shaw hits back after fans question how stadium was passed fit for Finland clash

By Graham Luney

The Irish FA have come out fighting after claims the football body knew Windsor Park was not fit for purpose ahead of the Euro 2016 qualifier against Finland at Windsor Park.

Windsor Avenue chiefs say they first became aware of damage to the stand on Tuesday morning however some fans have cast doubt on those claims.

Some supporters allege the IFA were aware the West Stand was already crumbling ahead of the clash with Finland.

With around 4,000 fans flocking into the stand on Sunday, the potential for injury would have been very real and the Irish FA would stand accused of putting the health and safety of spectators at risk.

The IFA say they need time to study a structural engineer's report however it is clear from freshly taken photographs that the stand will need to be destroyed and rebuilt.

The association aren't confirming that disastrous news at the moment but they are quick to refute claims they were aware of any safety concerns ahead of the international clash.

Irish FA president Jim Shaw said: "We didn't know about the damage to the stand prior to the Finland game. Suggestions that we did are completely untrue. We had a structural survey completed in the run up to the game and it came back absolutely clean with no problems. We are satisfied with this procedure and the game was able to proceed because we had those assurances."

The stand will have to come down at a huge financial cost, possibly as much as £8million.

Shaw added: "We won't know the answer to that until we study all the findings. It will take time and perhaps last until after Easter. Assessing the damage is a big task."

It now appears highly likely the Irish Cup final will not be staged at Windsor Park, with the Ballymena Showgrounds emerging as a possible venue for the May 2 showpiece.

That switch would represent a significant blow to finalists Glentoran and Portadown as the attendance for that glamour game is expected to be half the expected 9,000 that would have flocked to Windsor.

The Showgrounds did stage the League Cup final between Crusaders and Coleraine in January, 2012 and the famous Irish Cup final battles involving Linfield and Coleraine in 1975 which included two replays.

The home of Ballymena United offers impressive corporate hospitality and front and back entrances for the two sets of supporters.

Ulster Rugby's Kingspan Stadium remains an option for the Irish Cup decider but Ravenhill chiefs may be reluctant to agree to that with the Pro12 final set to be staged there on Saturday, May 30. Linfield's remaining home games against Crusaders, scheduled for this Saturday, and Glenavon on April 11 will now have to be rearranged.

Although the Blues appear to have drifted out of the title race they have now been denied an opportunity to reduce the gap with Crusaders to six points going into the final four fixtures.

Linfield boss Warren Feeney said: "For health and safety reasons the games cannot be played at Windsor but it's a big setback for us and very disappointing after what has been a difficult season for us with all the redevelopment work going on.

"We are trying to do things right on the pitch but all the time work is going on around you and it's not ideal when your training or game preparation is affected by the work. It's been hard from day one when we had to play our first six league games away from home and although Crusaders are in a fantastic position, we want to finish as high as we can and two big home games have been taken away from us. But I'm not into making excuses and while we still have a fighting chance of catching Crusaders we will battle on.

"The only big consolation in all of this is that no-one was hurt at the Northern Ireland match, as you only have to look at the number of fans in there to realise what could have happened."

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter said: "I think it was inevitable when we heard about the damage to the stadium. It was something we had been prepared for."

Mourneview Park or the Ballymena Showgrounds are possible venues for the Linfield-Crues game while Shamrock Park could be considered for the Linfield v Glenavon clash.

It now seems certain Northern Ireland will not return to Windsor to entertain Romania in the Euro 2016 qualifiers on June 13 so IFA chiefs will enquire about the availability of the Kingspan Stadium.

There are around 9,000 seats at the rugby venue and it is hoped that additional temporary seating can be erected.

Belfast Telegraph


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