Belfast Telegraph

IFA stress desire to work in harmony with Blues over Windsor

By Graham Luney

The Irish Football Association says it is committed to working with Linfield to resolve any differences regarding issues surrounding Windsor Park.

Linfield have fought to establish more club branding around the ground and recent discussions with the governing body have been productive.

A Blues source told the Belfast Telegraph this week that a previously cold relationship with the Irish FA was becoming warmer as the club's concerns are being addressed.

Many Linfield fans feel the club's identity has been eroded since a deal was struck several years ago as part of the multi-million pound government funded stadia project to modernise the venue and the IFA took over the management of the stadium.

A Linfield representative, however, stated: "A lot of discussions have been going on at board level. We have been meeting with the IFA every week about how to make Windsor Park a Linfield branded stadium on our matchdays. And there was a significant breakthrough before Christmas. The IFA have agreed to 95% of what we proposed and we have gone back to them on the other issues not yet agreed."

An Irish FA source echoed those sentiments, explaining that there was a real determination to address Linfield's concerns.

"The general consensus is that the working relationship between Linfield and the Irish Football Association is a positive one and both parties are committed to addressing and resolving any differences," said the Irish FA source.

"The Irish FA is very aware of the opinions expressed by Linfield fans who care about the club's identity and proud history. Decisions are being made around Linfield branding and financial issues concerning that.

"Hopefully the Linfield board and the club's fans will get a sense of the old Windsor Park more, a ground where the club has played since 1905.

"The Irish FA is committed to creating a stadium which is respectful of Linfield's history and is a proud home for both the Blues and the Northern Ireland team. There is a determination to have a stadium which works well for both parties."

Linfield fans will be watching developments closely, with one telling the Belfast Telegraph: "I think it's just the pettiness of what has been happening which upsets supporters, particularly the older ones who feel like strangers when they are told they can't use lifts.

"Supporters groups are concerned and not all the fans have faith in the board to fight the club's corner. There's a feeling among some members that they didn't get what they voted for in this stadium deal.

"I also go to international matches and you struggle to see any reference to Windsor Park in the match programme or the players' shirts.

"The IFA gave the stadium a different name and that upset the fans. But hopefully the current talks can achieve progress and we can move in the right direction."

• This year's County Antrim Shield final between Crusaders and Linfield will be staged at Ballymena Showgrounds on Tuesday, February 7 (7.45pm).

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