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Relations strained as Linfield and IFA clash on Windsor Park

By Steven Beacom

Linfield's relationship with the Irish FA has "broken down" on a number of occasions over Windsor Park, according to a source from inside the club.

The name of the stadium has caused particular problems and the Belfast Telegraph can reveal that the issue led to Linfield lodging an official complaint to the IFA.

It is understood that Linfield are also concerned about how they are allowed to make use of Windsor on a day-to-day basis.

The Blues were once in control of Windsor but in a deal struck several years ago as part of the multi-million pound government funded stadia project to modernise the venue, the IFA took over the management of the stadium.

Both parties have had struggles coming to terms with the new arrangement with a name game at the centre of things.

Some in the IFA call the international arena the 'National Stadium' which Linfield dispute as in the new contract it states 'Windsor Park' should be part of the name.

The issue came to a head when Linfield complained following what they saw as inappropriate wording in a job description.

"Over a period of months there have been issues between Linfield and the IFA," said a Linfield source.

"The day-to-day working relationship between the IFA and Linfield has broken down a few times. We made an official complaint about the improper use of the name Windsor Park when the IFA were advertising for a job based at the stadium.

"Day-to-day, we find obstacles put in front of us."

The source added: "We were content to sign the new contract. It was a good deal for Linfield. It gave day to day control to the IFA but now our legal team are flicking through the contract on a regular basis in regards to how they exercise that control."

In the new contract Linfield receive an annual payment of £200,000 from the IFA as part of a 51-year deal. In the previous contract the Blues received 15% of the gate money, television rights and commercial rights from Northern Ireland matches at Windsor.

The source added: "We feel we have a reasonable working relationship with IFA President Jim Shaw and Chief Executive Patrick Nelson but it is at a lower level that problems arise."

Linfield have not trained on the Windsor pitch since Christmas. It is believed that is to protect the surface though the source claims the terms of agreement between the club and the IFA says they are allowed to train at the ground once a week.

When these revelations were put to Linfield chairman Jim Kerr, he said: "We are having ongoing discussions about the situation. What is certain is that our club and the Association have to share the stadium and while we may agree to differ on certain things, I hope that going forward we can have a positive relationship.

"I would add that the contract between the IFA and Linfield states the name Windsor Park will always be part of the stadium even if and when naming rights come into play."

An Irish FA spokesperson said: "It is a new working relationship which will take time to bed in. We are fully respectful of Linfield's long and famous history at Windsor Park. We intend to make the shared venue a success for years to come."

In a separate issue, Linfield are unhappy with ticketing arrangements for the Irish Cup semi-finals which see them take on Lurgan Celtic at Windsor on April 1 and Glenavon against Crusaders at the same stadium the day after.

Following a meeting between the clubs and the IFA last week, it was announced that each of the clubs would receive an allocation of 500 tickets (300 adult and 200 concession) to sell to fans with all other ticket sales for the semi-finals and the final via Ticket master outlets or their online facility.

Kerr said: "We are very disappointed. Our average support is between 2,000 and 2,500 and yet we have only received 500 tickets to sell and that was only after we made a strong argument to the IFA to get them.

"I think by selling them the way they are it leaves it open for people to abuse the segregation system normally in use at these games.

"Also the pricing of the tickets for a semi-final at £15 is ridiculous. Surely we should be trying to entice fans to football matches rather than driving them away."

On that subject an IFA spokesperson said: "The IFA is committed to making the Irish Cup semi-finals a success for all the teams involved and will continue to work with all the participating clubs."

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