Belfast Telegraph

IFA shock at police escort refusal for Windsor Estonia showdown

Northern Ireland players leaving the Culloden Hotel for the trip to Windsor Park
Northern Ireland players leaving the Culloden Hotel for the trip to Windsor Park
Northern Ireland players leaving the Culloden Hotel for the trip to Windsor Park
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

The Irish Football Association (IFA) is understood to be shocked by a PSNI decision not to provide an escort for the coaches of both teams to last night's Euro 2020 qualifier at Windsor Park.

It is the first time police have not been made available to ensure both teams have safe passage to an international match at the national stadium.

A capacity crowd watched as Northern Ireland defeat Estonia in the first match of their qualifying campaign.

The Northern Ireland team made the journey across Belfast from the Culloden Hotel, while the Estonian team travelled to the south Belfast venue from the Stormont Hotel, meaning both had to pass through the centre of Belfast during rush hour.

An IFA source claimed it was the short notice of the PSNI decision that caused the major headache, because the IFA was given no time to put alternative measures in place.

In the match meeting, the Estonians said that they could not change their match-day itinerary, which had been set weeks before on the understanding that the team would have an incident-free passage to the venue.

An IFA source said the last-minute decision by the PSNI had left it in a difficult position.

"On Wednesday night the PSNI confirmed that they would not be providing police escorts to either Northern Ireland or Estonia to tonight's Uefa Euro 2020 qualifying match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park," the source said.

"This is the first time that police escorts have not been provided to a senior international football match in Belfast.

"While we fully understand the pressures that the PSNI are under and hugely grateful for the service that officers provide, the short notice meant that no contingencies could be put in place.

Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn scores in action during the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park on March 21th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn scores in action during the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park on March 21th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 21: Steve Davis of Northern Ireland scores during the 2020 UEFA European Championships group C qualifying match between Northern Ireland and Estonia at Windsor Park on March 21, 2019 in Belfast, United Kingdom. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Northern Ireland's Steven Davis scores his side's second goal of the game from the penalty spot during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying, Group C match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 21, 2019. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use.
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 21: Steve Davis of Northern Ireland celebrates with team mates after scoring during the 2020 UEFA European Championships group C qualifying match between Northern Ireland and Estonia at Windsor Park on March 21, 2019 in Belfast, United Kingdom. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn scores in action during the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park on March 21th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn scores in action during the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park on March 21th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn scores in action during the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park on March 21th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn scores in action during the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park on March 21th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn scores in action during the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park on March 21th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn scores in action during the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park on March 21th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Niall McGinn opened the scoring for Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland's George Saville rues a missed chance during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying, Group C match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 21, 2019. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use.
Northern Ireland's Jamal Lewis and Estonia's Nikita Baranov in action during the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park on March 21th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Northern Ireland's Jamal Lewis and Estonia's Nikita Baranov in action during the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park on March 21th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Northern Ireland's George Saville and Estonia's Nikita Baranov in action during the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park on March 21th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Northern Ireland's Jamal Lewis , Jonny Evans and Estonia's Henri Anier in action during the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park on March 21th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Northern Ireland's George Saville and Estonia's Gert Kams in action during the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park on March 21th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Northern Ireland's team in action during the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park on March 21th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Northern Ireland's George Saville and Estonia's Gert Kams in action during the Euro Qualifier at Windsor Park on March 21th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
PressEye-Northern Ireland- 21st March 2019-Picture by Brian Little/PressEye Northern Ireland fan Logan McCrubb ,8, from Antrim during Thursday night's UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying match at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park,Belfast Picture by Brian Little/PressEye
PressEye-Northern Ireland- 21st March 2019-Picture by Brian Little/PressEye Northern Ireland James and Trevor Fleming from Ballyclare during Thursday night's UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying match at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park,Belfast Picture by Brian Little/PressEye
PressEye-Northern Ireland- 21st March 2019-Picture by Brian Little/PressEye Northern Ireland Stephen, Sandra and Gordon Black from Cookstown during Thursday night's UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying match at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park,Belfast Picture by Brian Little/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 21st March 2019 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Northern Ireland's Corry Evans before Thursday nights UEFA Euro Qualifier against Estonia at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
PressEye-Northern Ireland- 21st March 2019-Picture by Brian Little/PressEye Northern Ireland Eddie King from Lisburn during Thursday night's UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying match at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park,Belfast Picture by Brian Little/PressEye
PressEye-Northern Ireland- 21st March 2019-Picture by Brian Little/PressEye Northern Ireland Cate and Justin Turner during Thursday night's UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying match at the National Football Stadium, Windsor Park,Belfast Picture by Brian Little/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 21st March 2019 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Northern Ireland with Estonia during Thursday nights UEFA Euro Qualifier at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 21st March 2019 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Northern Ireland with Estonia during Thursday nights UEFA Euro Qualifier at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 21st March 2019 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill before Thursday nights UEFA Euro Qualifier against Estonia at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 21st March 2019 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Northern Ireland's Craig Cathcart with Estonia's Madis Vihmann during Thursday nights UEFA Euro Qualifier at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 21st March 2019 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Northern Ireland's Paddy McNair with Estonia's Joonas Tamm during Thursday nights UEFA Euro Qualifier at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Pacemaker Belfast 21-3-19 Northern Ireland v Estonia - Euro 2020 Qualifier Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty and Estonia's Sergei Lepmets during this evening's game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 21-3-19 Northern Ireland v Estonia - Euro 2020 Qualifier Estonia's Artur Pikk and Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn during this evening's game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 21-3-19 Northern Ireland v Estonia - Euro 2020 Qualifier Northern Ireland's Steven Davis and Estonia's Mattias Kait during this evening's game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland team group. Top row (left to right) Kyle Lafferty, Craig Cathcart, George Saville, Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Jonny Evans and Paddy McNair. Bottom row (left to right) Steven Davis, Jamal Lewis, Niall McGinn, Jordan Jones and Stuart Dallas during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying, Group C match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 21, 2019. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use.
General view of the pitch ahead of the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying, Group C match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 21, 2019. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use.
Northern Ireland Manager Michael O'Neill gestures on the touchline during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying, Group C match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 21, 2019. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use.
Estonia's Gert Kams (left) and Northern Ireland's Jordan Jones battle for the ball during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying, Group C match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 21, 2019. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use.
Northern Ireland's Jamal Lewis during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying, Group C match at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 21, 2019. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use.
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 21: Stuart Dallas of Northern Ireland takes on the Estonia defense during the 2020 UEFA European Championships group C qualifying match between Northern Ireland and Estonia at Windsor Park on March 21, 2019 in Belfast, United Kingdom. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 21: Stuart Dallas of Northern Ireland clashes Henrik Ojamaa of Estonia with during the 2020 UEFA European Championships group C qualifying match between Northern Ireland and Estonia at Windsor Park on March 21, 2019 in Belfast, United Kingdom. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 21: Michael O'Neill, Manager of Northern Ireland during the 2020 UEFA European Championships group C qualifying match between Northern Ireland and Estonia at Windsor Park on March 21, 2019 in Belfast, United Kingdom. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

"We were left with the possibility that the teams would be delayed getting to the match, that there could have been a delay in opening the gates to spectators and possibly even a delay to kick-off."

The PSNI said it had carried out a risk assessment ahead of the fixture, which attracted almost 20,000 spectators to the south Belfast stadium.

Before the game, Chief Superintendent Jonathan Roberts said: "When planning operations to support significant public, cultural and sporting events, police carry out a comprehensive risk assessment to inform our operational decisions.

"As a result, an operational decision was taken not to provide team buses with a police escort for tonight's match.

"With over 18,000 football supporters attending the match at the National Stadium, this football match will be policed in a manner and style appropriate and proportionate to the threat and risk presented.

"The policing operation for the match saw police officers deployed around the stadium performing public safety roles."

The match kicked off at the expected time of 7.45pm.

Any delay in the start of the game would have exposed the IFA to sanctions from European football's governing body, Uefa, and the problem could have been compounded as a road accident on the Sydenham Road at around 5pm yesterday saw the road closed in both directions, causing knock-on delays on the Sydenham Bypass, M3 and Airport Road.

In last season's Champions League, Manchester United were hit by a €15,000 (£12,966) fine after arriving late for a group match against Valencia due to traffic congestion around their Old Trafford ground, which delayed the kick-off by five minutes.

Uefa fined Arsenal the same amount for a late kick-off in their Europa League game against Qarabag in London last December.

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