Belfast Telegraph

Windsor Park fit and ready for Northern Ireland v Romania clash

By Steven Beacom

There was a great sense of pride amongst IFA officials at Windsor Park yesterday.

And it had nothing to do with anything happening on the pitch. Not a Kyle Lafferty goal, Steven Davis pass, Jonny Evans tackle or Roy Carroll save.

The joy was down to new stands, new seats and the fact that the stadium had been passed fit and ready for Northern Ireland to stage their vital Euro 2016 qualifier at home to Romania on Saturday.

And all this after the Kop Stand had been demolished a few weeks before.

Cracks in the structure of the Kop put paid to the Stand, much loved by fans, and signalled the start of a new plan to speed up the work being completed on the old Railway (East) and South Stands, which would still allow a 10,000 capacity for the Romania qualifier, enabling it to take place at Windsor.

Yesterday, having received safety clearance from Belfast City Council, the IFA flung open the stadium's doors to the media to show off the new look Windsor Park, put together by construction firm O'Hare and McGovern.

IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson said: "It's been a monumental job over the last eight or nine weeks to make the West (Kop) Stand safe by demolition and to get all of the 4000 seats into the East, South East quadrant and South Stand.

"We are going to put the Romanians into the South Stand and our fans are going to be all the way from the corner of the North Stand through into the quadrant.

"We set the target to have the game at Windsor and then worked out the project plan with all of the guys involved from the architects to the project managers and construction people at O'Hare and McGovern. They gave us a plan and we were convinced it was going to work and went for it. We said we were going to do it and the project team have done it."

Nelson added that "the good spirit of Northern Ireland" helped the plan succeed. Great news for Saturday, but there is still much work to do in the future, such as re-building the Kop.

Nelson enjoyed the tummy tickling questions, but others needed answering too, especially given that £25 million of public money has gone to the IFA in relation to the refurbishment of Windsor Park.

He stated that the fault for the Kop's demise was 'still to be determined'. On who will pay for the new Kop? (Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin previously told the Belfast Telegraph that the money won't come out of the public purse) "Well, in the first instance we have an insurance policy and our insurers Zurich have been very good on this. I suspect they will carry on looking down the line to see where the ultimate bill ends up."

Nelson added that he did not think the IFA had made any mistakes during the process and when quizzed on when the new Kop would be completed, he replied: "At this point we are still on target to finish what we were expecting to finish by November, which is to get all of the East Stand and entire South Stand complex finished, including all the changing rooms, hospitality areas and press facilities.

"The extra work that will be done to put a new West (Kop) Stand together will take a while longer. It is too early to put a timeframe on it. The planning work will start fairly quickly on it.

"Whether the physical construction starts on the West Stand before the rest of the stadium is constructed I'm not sure. That's one for the professionals."

So, according to Nelson, the 'professionals' (the builders) will decide on when construction work starts on the Kop.

The same question about when the Kop would be built led General Manager Martin Lennon from O'Hare and McGovern to suggest it would be entirely up to the IFA.

Lennon said: "That's down to the IFA to decide. They are deciding when they want to proceed with that.

"We are working with the IFA to achieve whatever outcome they want to achieve."

O'Hare and McGovern want to build the new Kop but that has yet to be confirmed. Lennon added he was "proud" that his firm "had raised their game" to deliver the Stands in time for the Romania game and that "the world class facility was starting to come together."

Important to note for fans is that new toilet facilities are ready for Saturday. As well as over 9,000 Northern Ireland fans there will be 705 Romanian followers, with 300 stewards on duty for the match. Uefa officials visit Windsor today for a rubber stamping exercise.

Belfast Telegraph