Belfast Telegraph

Irish Cup final is just the ticket... for some of the fans

By Graham Luney

When you're standing on the terracing at The Oval on Saturday, May 2 watching the Irish Cup final, you might be tempted to recall Jim Bowen's famous phrase on ITV gameshow Bullseye - 'look at what you could have won'.

If only Northern Ireland had a football stadium that could accommodate 8,000 fans and let everyone who wanted to be part of the biggest day in the Irish League calendar savour the moment.

So if you do - eventually - get your hands on a ticket for the showpiece occasion, you'll be one of the lucky ones.

The brutal reality is that thousands of supporters will be frozen out of the final between Glentoran and Portadown.

When the Glens faced Cliftonville in the 2013 decider at Windsor Park, a crowd of 9,000 supporters packed into the international venue but there's no chance of similar numbers arriving at The Oval next month.

It emerged yesterday that 3,000 tickets have been allocated to the Portadown support including 1,700 seats. Prices are certainly not cheap, coming in at £15 (seating), £12 (terracing) and £8 (concession) and supporters face the added financial headache of a Ticketmaster booking fee which could be as much as £2.25 per ticket.

It's also right that the IFA are working with the Glens and Ports to ensure season ticket holders have priority access to buy tickets via their club.

But with tickets not likely to appear until later this week, with just 17 days to go to the eagerly awaited clash, fans are still gripped by the fear of missing out.

A significant number of supporters plan to travel long distances to attend the final so they need information quickly.

The Irish FA announced The Oval as the venue for the final on Friday and their Challenge Cup Committee clearly wanted to keep the game within the 'football family'.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Irish FA spokesman William Campbell said 'both clubs have accepted the situation'.

It didn't appear that way on Saturday when Glens boss Eddie Patterson said he felt the Kingspan Stadium was his preferred choice for such a high profile game.

Did the Irish FA decide not to ask Ulster Rugby to make the Kingspan Stadium available for the Irish Cup final because they feared crowd trouble would jeopardise their chances of staging the Northern Ireland v Romania Euro 2016 qualifier there in June?

The IFA still want the Romania game to go ahead at Windsor on June 13 but that's highly unlikely given the significant damage to the Kop Stand. There is destined to be a heavy police presence in East Belfast given recent incidents of trouble involving rival supporters. I've been witness to it before at The Oval in October, 2011 when Glens goalkeeping coach David McClelland was knocked to the ground after a firework thrown from the Portadown section of the crowd blew a contact lens out of his eye.

The bigger and depressing picture for Irish League fans is that while Windsor Park's Kop Stand is sinking into the ground, we lack a modern stadium capable of hosting a major cup final in front of 8,000 fans.

The Oval's health and safety certificate could never allow for those numbers.

Inevitably, thousands of fans will be denied the opportunity to attend the first Glens-Ports Irish Cup final since 2000 and the clubs will also suffer financially.

In case you hadn't noticed there's a Westminster election on the horizon. Politicians are coming out of the shadows and promising us the earth, moon and stars.

All Glentoran fans want is a shiny new stadium in East Belfast they can proudly call home - and one we would all be happy to visit.

Belfast Telegraph


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