Ask anyone who has ever been to Windsor Park if they think the stadium is in need of a facelift and it’s unlikely many will say anything but yes.
New Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson admitted yesterday that he has yet to visit the home of Northern Ireland’s international football team when he faced the media on his first day.
The good news, however, is that without setting foot inside a football ground steeped in history, he knows that something needs to be done to bring it up to standard for international matches.
And the 49-year-old has laid the stadium issue down as one of the top four things that he wants to see dealt with as soon as possible as he gets his feet under the table at Windsor Avenue.
His predecessor Howard Wells had hoped that the Maze Stadium would be his legacy to Northern Ireland football, both he and the possibility of football being played in the site of the former prison have now gone.
Wells also tried to terminate the century-long contract the IFA has with Linfield for use of the stadium — a venture that ultimately failed.
If he doesn’t already know, Nelson will quickly find out that contract is watertight, so it’s basically down to working with the Blues — who have said they are willing to renegotiate as part of a redevelopment plan — on the best way forward.
“I haven’t been to Windsor Park yet,” said Nelson.
“I am going to be there next week for the international game and I’ll be going down in the next few days to have a look around.
“What I do know and we all know, is that we have to take the national stadium project forward and we need to work out the best way to do that.
“We need to look at some of the history, but we need to see what the current options are for going forward, to look at the business cases and try to move forward as an association for the whole of Northern Ireland.
“It is one of mine and the IFA’s major priorities to work out where we go with the national stadium project and we do need to find a way forward.”
Nelson has a family background in Northern Ireland and that means taking up the IFA job is a proud step for the Derby County fan.
“It’s a fabulous for me to have an opportunity to have some time working in my Dad’s country,” he said.
“My father was from Northern Ireland, from Kilkeel and he had to head over to England for work in the late 1950s and I am sure everyone is familiar with that kind of story and it’s great to come back and be part of his country.”
And the new man at the helm of Northern Ireland football wants everyone on-board to take the local game forward.
“Everyone that I can find in terms of stakeholders, I want to spend some time working with so that we can try to take Northern Ireland football forward together,” said Nelson.
“So many people who have an involvement in football within Northern Ireland.
“It’s for the fans, for the kids, for the clubs, for the players and for the press and I want to listen to and talk to them all.”
The key questions
SM: What attracted you to a job that many would see as a ‘poisoned chalice’?
PN: As a friend who I asked for advice when I was offered the job said, ‘You’re swapping Accrington away for Poland away and the Czech Republic away.’
The excitement of of being on a much bigger stage. I don’t think poisoned chalice at all, I think fabulous opportunity.
SM: What are the main goals, long-term and short-term that you hope to achieve?
PN: At my second interview I was asked to do a presentation outlining my main priorities and I think I had four. Mainly it was to do with reviewing and revising the strategy.
For me it’s half-time, it’s time to get off the field, think about whether we have the right players in the strategy and redevelop for the second-half.
Taking forward the national stadium project would have been another.
Spending time being active and visible in my leadership of the staff and the fourth to spend time working with the media, some of the major stakeholders within football in Northern Ireland.
SM: What were your major achievements in your previous job at Macclesfield Town?
PN: Making sure that we stayed in the Football League and making sure that we had enough money to pay the bills on a regular basis and that we didn’t get behind.
Trying to up the professionalism in everything we did, off the field in particular.
We tried to re-brand, we set up a new relationship with a world-class kit manufacturer, we managed to re-negotiate with the main sponsor for two more years to give us more breathing space.
The one thing that disappointed me was that we didn’t manage to translate that into quality on the football pitch.
SM: On the field there is a big step up from League Two to international football, is there as big a step for you to make off the field?
PN: I hope there isn’t a big step up that I need to make.
Macclesfield Town has been a great experience for me and Notts County was a great experience for me too.
This is an entirely different role to those though. There are different stakeholders and different things for me to worry about here.