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IFA coming under heavy fire as Glentoran and Portadown fans criticise Irish Cup final decision

By Steven Beacom

Published 15/04/2015

Clear message: Portadown fans unfurled this banner during their Premiership clash against Glentoran at the Oval
Clear message: Portadown fans unfurled this banner during their Premiership clash against Glentoran at the Oval

Glentoran and Portadown have been urged to boycott this year’s Irish Cup final if the IFA fail to come up with acceptable answers regarding the new venue and ticketing arrangements.

The call comes from the chairman of a prominent Glentoran Supporters Club, who feels the  IFA have turned the local game’s showpiece fixture on May 2 into a “shambles”.

Lifelong Glens fan Michael Wilson, representing the Cookstown Glentoran Supporters Club, is not alone in feeling the IFA have made a mess of what was a highly anticipated decider.

First, fans of both Portadown and Glentoran were angered by having to obtain tickets through Ticketmaster, and having to pay a booking fee, and now they are fuming with fear of missing out on the big day after the final was switched from Windsor Park, due to cracks in the structure of the Kop Stand, to the Oval, leaving around 4,000 fewer tickets available.

Glentoran boss Eddie Patterson said at the weekend the final should have been played at the Kingspan Stadium, home of Ulster Rugby, which could seat 9,000 fans. Many agree with those sentiments.

“The IFA seem to stumble from one crisis to another and in my view are strangling Irish League football. The Cup final has become a shambles,” Mr Wilson from the Cookstown club told the Belfast Telegraph.

“I believe a message has to be sent out to the IFA once and for all and that Glentoran and Portadown should consider a boycott of the final if they do not receive acceptable explanations why Ulster Rugby was not approached about the Kingspan Stadium and why Ticketmaster is still being used to buy tickets.

“I feel both clubs should speak with one voice on this.”

The Cookstown supporters club has 40 members, several of them youngsters, all of whom are hoping to attend the Cup final.

Whether or not they are able to remains to be seen. Scores of Glentoran and Portadown supporters clubs are in the same boat.

Indeed, some angry Ports fans unfurled a banner during their Premiership match against the Glens at The Oval on Saturday claiming that moving the Cup final was a campaign against their club, although with Glentoran also unhappy with the situation that is clearly not the case.

In relation to Glentoran's ticket arrangements, they have announced shareholders, season ticket holders, Vice Presidents and Life Members ONLY, can purchase Cup final tickets at the club store on Saturday (9:30am-2pm) and Sunday (10am-5pm) before the rest of the tickets go on general sale via Ticketmaster next Monday.

Mr Wilson stated: "Due to the reduced numbers allowed to attend the final, thousands of fans are going to miss out including youngsters, the lifeblood of our game. We want them to go and enjoy a Cup final and be so enthused about it that they want to attend Irish League football matches all the time.

"I'm delighted that the Northern Ireland team is doing so well but I do feel that the IFA show far more interest to the international game than Irish League football."

Another Glentoran supporter wrote to the Belfast Telegraph with similar feelings, underlining the views of football fans who had hoped to travel from Great Britain to the Cup final.

Entitling his letter 'to whom it may concern at the IFA', Rob Manson from Manchester via Bloomfield wrote: "I booked flight tickets on the 23rd March to travel from Manchester to Belfast for the final with my wife and two children at a cost of £378, having just returned from the semi-final at Mourneview Park.

"These flights are non-changeable and non-refundable. I am now in the position of having no assurance whatsoever that I will get one ticket never mind four tickets for the 'showpiece final'.

"Not only have I indoctrinated my family to 'the cause', I have also spread the word far and wide in England and have previously brought a large contingent of Leicester Rugby fans to the Oval to watch a game. There is a lot of interest in England regarding the Irish League because there are so many 'ex-pats' doing likewise.

"I had eight friends including their children prepared to travel from England for your 'showpiece final' but every single one of them has had to shelve this idea given the total lack of clarity around the arrangements for the game. Will they decide to come again? Who knows. I doubt it.

"This game belongs to the IFA - Fact. It is entirely up to them to have made suitable arrangements for the game which should have included the Kingspan as the preferred option for both sets of supporters and the general sporting public in Northern Ireland. The buck has to stop with them."

In a statement on their website accompanying ticket news for the May 2 encounter, Glentoran FC reiterated their manager's view that the game should have been played at the Kingspan Stadium.

They added: "We regret that this option was apparently not seriously considered by the IFA and have therefore made The Oval available as the only other feasible option in Northern Ireland, albeit at an unacceptably low capacity.

"However with the current 'safe' capacity at The Oval this will have a significant detrimental financial impact on both clubs and we will seek to have this matter addressed."

It had been suggested that the decision to take the match to The Oval came down to cost, but no official approach to Ulster Rugby for the use of the Kingspan was actually made, although Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 qualifier against Romania on Saturday June 13 could still be played there.

The final allocations are expected to be confirmed today, with both teams expected to receive 3,000 tickets.

Belfast Telegraph

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