Belfast Telegraph

Steven Beacom: Shame incredible Aviva Stadium witnessed Northern Ireland's dross

Remember Bullseye — the darts based quiz show from the 1980s?

The climax came when a decent player and his or her partner, who usually couldn't throw confetti, tried to score 101 or more with six darts to win the star prize — a car, caravan, holiday or, bizarrely, a speedboat.

All well and good if you won.

Cruel though if you didn't, because the prize was wheeled out anyway with genial host Jim Bowen uttering the immortal line “take a look at what you could have won”.

A thought similar to that may have crossed the minds of Northern Ireland fans last night at the Aviva stadium.

Replacing the old Lansdowne Road, and officially opened in May 2010, it's a hugely impressive arena with a capacity of 50,000. Three parts of the ground have four tiers and, having experienced the top one on Tuesday night, you feel like you could reach out and touch the sky.

The Northern Ireland players, those that were left after all the withdrawals, certainly lapped up the surroundings pre-match with a few no doubt wondering what it would be like to have a stadium like the Aviva for their home games.

The thing is, had the Maze stadium plan gone ahead they could have done.

Despite all the political grandstanding at the time and the millions of pounds spent (and wasted) on the project, it never got off the ground with Northern Ireland remaining at Windsor Park, a decision that, it should be noted, pleased most of the fans.

The old place has given us many magical memories, but it's in desperate need of a major spruce up. That's coming, of course, and in the next few years we'll hopefully have a spanking new 20,000 all-seater stadium to be proud of.

Something reaching the standard of the Aviva, albeit on a smaller scale, would be just the ticket.

Last night around 5,500 Northern Ireland fans made the trip to Dublin from all parts of the province.

I reckon for the first time at a football match in the Aviva, God Save The Queen was played with the Green and White Army belting it out for all they were worth. They certainly know their anthem better than Christina Aguilera knows hers.

Mind you, it didn't go down well with the 3000 members of the Tartan Army, who jeered throughout.

The Northern Ireland support followed suit, booing the Flower of Scotland when it was played.

Around 10,000 turned up to see the game, leaving the top tiers virtually empty, but the noise levels were higher than on Tuesday night when 20,900 paid in to see the Republic of Ireland play Wales.

Scotland to Northern Ireland: “Are you England in disguise?”

The reply: “You're just a small part of England.”

The banter was good but, as the first half wore on, you couldn't say the same about Nigel Worthington's team with Scotland in the ascendency and looking like they would score with virtually every attack.

The volume from the Northern Ireland supporters decreased as Scotland scored not once, not twice, but three times to inflict a sore defeat on Nigel Worthington's team.

On Tuesday night Manchester United's Londonderry born midfielder Darron Gibson became the first Ulsterman to score in the Aviva with a cracking strike in the Republic's 3-0 win over Wales.

Last night it was hoped that one of Worthington's players would make history by becoming the first Northern Ireland player to do the same.

Looks like we are going to have to wait until May for that when Northern Ireland meet the Republic.

Expect the awesome Aviva stadium to be packed to capacity for that.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph