Belfast Telegraph

Uefa must help Northern Ireland supporters in their hour of need

By Gary McAllister

Since last summer, even before Northern Ireland sealed qualification for Euro 2016, the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs held four meetings with the Irish FA to set out the details of a loyalty scheme to be applied for the distribution of tickets for matches at the finals.

This was on the suggestion of the AONISC, of which I am Chairman. We argued for a loyalty scheme and asked that those who had attended matches during the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and campaigns previous to that were given top priority.

We felt that we were content with what was laid down and that it recognised loyalty and that it was rewarded.

Now though, as fans across Europe find out if their ticket applications have been successful or not, from what I can see Uefa have failed to implement the system.

I have missed out on a ticket for Northern Ireland's opening match against Poland in Nice, despite having 27 loyalty points (the maximum was 29).

In my group we applied for 16 tickets. Only seven of those who applied got tickets for that match and every one of them had fewer points than those who were unsuccessful.

Some fans who applied for Category 3 tickets but said they would accept tickets in Category 2 or Category 4 missed out, but those who only wanted Category 3 did get a ticket, with again some on fewer points being successful.

We have asked the IFA to get us answers and we are waiting to see what comes back from Uefa.

If it was going to be a lottery - as is the case with some countries - and we knew that would be the case then we'd have accepted it, but those countries agreed to that, while we requested that a loyalty scheme be put in place and fans with a high number of points expected to receive tickets.

Clearly the system wasn't implemented.

I am disappointed and others are disappointed at missing out too when they had been told that the system would be implemented and naturally they aren't happy.

I haven't got a ticket for the Poland game as yet, but I know that I will still get to the two other group games. Other faithful Northern Ireland fans have only applied to go to the opening game and don't have a ticket, meaning that they will miss out on what is maybe a once in a lifetime opportunity to see their country play in a major tournament.

One thousand extra tickets have been swiftly made available for the Poland match, which we welcome.

We will also continue to ask for additional tickets to be made available.

We have 8,000 fans who purchased block booking tickets for the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. How far that additional allocation will go to satisfying the number of people who have missed out I don't know, but it is now vitally important that those tickets go to fans with the highest number of points.

That is the only fair way of distributing them.

You can't take tickets away from people who have already been told that their applications have been successful, but we have also argued that Uefa - who, after all, are the tournament organisers - take control of what other tickets there are available for the match and not allow them to go on sale to anyone else.

Tickets were made available last summer in a blind lottery, when people bought tickets even though they didn't know what teams were going to be playing in particular matches.

There is a window next month when these can be sold on. We would ask that Uefa take responsibility for redistributing these and give them to the people who are deserving of them.

• Gary McAllister is the Chairman of the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs

Belfast Telegraph