Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland football museum will bring home trophy our boys won 31 years ago

By Claire McNeilly

The Irish FA is planning to make the historic British Championship trophy the star attraction of a new football museum to be unveiled at Windsor Park next year, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Northern Ireland are, technically, the reigning British football champions, having won the famous old cup the last time the Home Internationals were played in 1984.

The trophy itself is currently on loan to the National Football Museum in Manchester.

We can also reveal that the eagerly-awaited museum will be called The Education and Heritage Centre. It will be an integral part of the new-look Windsor, due for completion in January 2016, and will include a section dedicated to our greatest footballer, George Best.

IFA head of operations William Campbell confirmed to the Belfast Telegraph the IFA was working on the concept and design plan for the new centre.

"It's going to tell the story of association football in Northern Ireland since it started in 1880," he said. "It's part of the East Stand at Windsor Park - it will actually be under the stand - and it's going be similar in size to The Nevin Spence Centre at Ulster Rugby's Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.

"Northern Ireland holds the British Championship trophy, and has done since 1984.

"We've loaned it out to the National Football Museum in Manchester, but it will come back, and it's our intention to make it the centrepiece of the new centre."

The British Championship, also known as the Home Internationals, was an annual competition contested between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (who competed as Ireland for most of the competition's 100-year history).

Football's oldest international tournament was abolished because England, who had won it the most times (54), were no longer interested in playing local rivals.

Northern Ireland/Ireland won it three times, and shared the title on another five occasions.

Civil unrest in the province led to the 1981 competition being abandoned.

While there is no "target date for opening" the football centre, Mr Campbell said he anticipated it would be ready for its first visitors in the early part of 2016.

"The priority at the moment is to get the stadium up and running and finished," he added.

"By the end of January the current build and refurbishment will be completed, apart from the West Stand, and then the IFA is moving into offices there in February.

"We hope to play a friendly international match in March, and at that stage we would like to think that we would have all the facilities - the dressing rooms, the media, the hospitality - functioning.

"The only part of the ground that won't be is, obviously, the West Stand, which had to be demolished, and the aim is that it should be ready for our first World Cup qualifying match in October 2016."

Mr Campbell said other highlights would include a tribute to our star footballers: "We'll be looking at a Hall of Legends which will celebrate the top players of the past who have played a role in international football. We'll also be trying to celebrate, as much as we possibly can, the three World Cups in 1958, 1982 and 1986.

"But it will be wider than that because we have a responsibility to tell the full story of the game - so it's not only about the international game: we will also be looking at the domestic successes.

Ukip's David McNarry, vice chairman of Stormont's all party group on football, said: "It's not just going to be some Mickey Mouse thing, it'll be done very tastefully. In it will be the evidence of the development of football for all, and that's key to increasing the fanbase from all traditions. It'll be an open home."

Belfast Telegraph


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