Could Republic of Ireland Windsor return be the next step for historic united front?
Irish Football Association chief executive Patrick Nelson has said that a friendly between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland at Windsor Park could be arranged in the future as part of improved relations between the football neighbours.
The IFA and Football Association of Ireland have had disagreements on the eligibility issue and the recruitment of young players, but yesterday both bodies were keen to highlight their close working relationship as they launched a joint bid to host the Uefa Under-21 Championship in 2023, as revealed in the Belfast Telegraph on Wednesday.
If the bid is successful, the FAI have agreed that the final will be played at Windsor Park, while other venues will include Ballymena Showgrounds and possibly Ulster Rugby's Kingspan Stadium. Northern Ireland will travel to the Aviva Stadium for a friendly on November 15, and when asked if the Republic could be invited to play at Windsor in the future, Nelson replied: "We haven't had discussions about that but there is no reason why it shouldn't happen some time in the future.
"This month's game works for us as preparation for the Austria game on the Sunday.
It's a game that suits Martin O'Neill and the Republic too, and in the future, who knows?"
The last time the Republic played at Windsor Park they had a 4-0 Euro qualifying victory in November 1994 - one year on from the infamous 1-1 World Cup qualifier and Billy Bingham's last game as manager which was played in a hostile atmosphere amid the tragic Troubles events of the period 25 years ago.
Nelson, who confirmed that just over 3,000 Northern Ireland fans will attend the Aviva friendly, added: “With regard to eligibility we accept that players have a choice and our job is to make the pathway here in Northern Ireland the best it can be and to encourage players here to play for Northern Ireland and wear our green shirt.
“That’s what I’m focused on on a daily basis. We have a good relationship with the FAI, I’ve known John Delaney for nine and a half years, we have got on well and meet regularly.
“I’ve got no doubt we will put together a really good bid.”
This is first time that the associations have worked together on a joint bid and Nelson added: “The friendly is a fabulous example of both associations working together for mutual benefit and this bid indicates our desire to have positive relations between our associations and to work together, when we can, for the good of football.
“The friendly against the Republic will be a great occasion with both teams going at it full pelt with only pride at stake, no points.
“A lot will be written about that game but it’s a preparation game for ourselves as we play Austria in the Nations League a few days later. If the bid is successful it will have huge economic benefits for both countries.”
The Irish FA has also launched another bid to host the Uefa Super Cup final at Windsor Park.
Northern Ireland is one of four countries hoping to stage the 2021 meeting of the Champions League and Europa League winners.
The others are Belarus, Finland and Ukraine. Windsor lost out to Istanbul in the contest to host the the 2019 Super Cup.