Belfast Telegraph

Windsor Park woes leave us all with a sad, sinking feeling

By Graham Luney

I've followed some depressing football stories in my time covering the game in Northern Ireland but what is happening at Windsor Park leaves me feeling very low.

There have been plenty of jokes sparked by the demise of the Kop Stand and I'll not be able to resist inventing a few myself but when you cut through everything you come to the conclusion that this is an absolute tragedy and disaster for football fans in Northern Ireland.

At the business end of the Irish League season, when the big trophies are handed out, we should be looking forward to the drama and excitement of it all.

But what we are going to get is an Irish Cup Final which will be half the great spectacle it should be and Linfield, despite clinging to a title dream, won't be returning to Windsor Park until next season at the earliest.

Northern Ireland fans will probably travel to the Kingspan Stadium in June to watch their heroes take on Romania in a Euro 2016 qualifier and while some of them, possibly in reduced numbers, may enjoy the novelty of standing up for the Ulstermen at the home of Ulster Rugby, the vast majority were hoping the Windsor roar that has inspired the players so far would continue.

Just ask Kyle Lafferty what it means to score in front of the Kop.

This is a nightmare scenario that has affected a huge number of football fans and now we are talking about a crumbling stand at our national stadium instead of focusing on the title race and Irish Cup final.

If the May showpiece final between Glentoran and Portadown moves to the Ballymena Showgrounds, the attendance will be approximately half the 9,000 that would have flocked to the clash at Windsor on May 2. Of course the match will still be worth watching wherever it is played but there is no other football ground in the country that could match the colour and noise generated at Windsor.

The Glens, Ports and their supporters are massive losers as the Kop Stand sinks further into the ground.

Meanwhile, Linfield have been denied the chance to beat Crusaders at home on Saturday and apply a little more pressure on their rivals in the hope they will also crack.

How is that a fair outcome to a league championship?

Photographs of the damage indicate the Kop Stand will need to be destroyed and rebuilt - at huge cost.

And that means clubs may struggle to get their hands on much needed grant money.

We can forever be thankful that no-one was injured at the Northern Ireland match but this tragic development has created a football hangover that will linger for a very long time.

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