Blues demand answers from IFA chiefs over new Belfast stadium
Linfield have been left in the dark by plans for a new stadium in the Sydenham area of east Belfast — and the prospect of international football being taken away from Windsor Park has cast a shadow over the club.
Blues chairman Jim Kerr said he was “surprised” to learn that the Irish FA were considering the merits of a new stadium in the east of the city at a time when the green light was expected to be given for redevelopment plans at Windsor.
The south Belfast club want answers from the IFA and no doubt considerable financial compensation if the football body wishes to terminate its international agreement with the Blues.
Any facility at the Blanchflower Stadium would offer a new home to Glentoran — if they sell their existing home at the Oval and move to the new stadium as tenants.
There are many hurdles to conquer before this dream can become a reality but Linfield are clearly concerned that their international agreement with the IFA may come to an end.
The Blues are happy to remain at Windsor but if the venue will only host Irish League matches in the future it would not need a capacity of more than 10,000.
Kerr said there were many significant boxes to tick before the east Belfast stadium proposal gained approval.
“We cannot influence what the IFA do or what direction they want to go with regard to a new stadium,” he said.
“At Linfield we can only look after our members’ interests and we will certainly want clarification from the IFA and from government what their thinking is with regard to this stadium.
“Our international agreement with the IFA has another 80 years to run and there has been no discussions with regard to the termination of that contract.
“Should that happen Linfield would expect to be compensated but the IFA and Sports Minister (Gregory Campbell) have been in discussions with us over the redevelopment of Windsor Park so this new development has surprised us.
“It was our understanding that the IFA wanted international football to continue at Windsor in the short and long term but it seems that that may not be the case now. But we are expecting the IFA to honour their contract with us.”
The new arena would have a 20,000-capacity and would be built on a 90-acre site beside the current Blanchflower Stadium.
Major fixtures, such as the Irish Cup final, could be staged at the stadium but Kerr questions the need for a venue catering for 20,000 fans.
“Ulster rugby has been developing Ravenhill and I would not expect Northern Ireland games to attract that number of fans unless the side is doing very well and one of the big countries is in town,” he added. “You would have to question how often that ground would be filled.
“Certainly Windsor could function with a reduced capacity if international football is taken away from us. People have said that Linfield are pocketing a lot of money from those fixtures but international football does not come cheap, the ground needs to be well maintained and Windsor was still being used for football throughout the troubles when international games could not be played in Belfast.”
Sooner, rather than later, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and Irish FA will have to say to Linfield whether a redeveloped Windsor Park or a new stadium across the city will host future international fixtures.