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Ian Baraclough: I'll miss Northern Ireland fans' famous Windsor roar on home debut


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Taking it in: Ian Baraclough has a look around Windsor Park after being appointed Northern Ireland manager

Taking it in: Ian Baraclough has a look around Windsor Park after being appointed Northern Ireland manager

Looking back: Steven Davis in action against Norway, but their September battle at Windsor could go ahead behind closed doors

Looking back: Steven Davis in action against Norway, but their September battle at Windsor could go ahead behind closed doors

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Taking it in: Ian Baraclough has a look around Windsor Park after being appointed Northern Ireland manager

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough has accepted that he won't be able to count on the vocal support of the Green and White Army when his international reign gets under way.

The Covid-19 pandemic has kept fans away from stadiums, with the Irish FA achieving a small victory by welcoming 500 supporters into Windsor Park for the Irish Cup final.

But the virus remains a very real health risk both at home and abroad, sparking fears that big games will be played behind closed doors for a significant period.

The Champions League and Europa League has returned without supporters in attendance and Nations League fixtures may even have to be played at neutral venues.

Northern Ireland will begin their Nations League campaign away to Romania on Friday, September 4 and three days later they will host Norway in their first home fixture of League B Group 1.

In the fast-moving Covid-19 picture, both the international and club game cannot be certain of anything.

Uefa are conscious that travel between some countries may be prohibited because of restrictions relating to the pandemic and Linfield, who play San Marino champions Tre Fiori in the first phase of the Champions League preliminary round tournament in Switzerland tomorrow, are monitoring developments.

Poland, Hungary, Greece and Cyprus have put themselves forward as neutral 'hubs' should they be required.

Romania's Covid-19 crisis is deepening and a change of venue for Baraclough's first game in charge looks very likely.

Uefa have said: "The possibility of playing international matches at neutral venues cannot be discounted at this stage."

Former Sligo Rovers chief Baraclough accepts the fans won't be able to follow the team in big numbers and it would be particularly frustrating to play without the famous Windsor roar against Norway.

"We'll be guided by the NI Executive and medical people and quite rightly we don't want to put anyone at risk," he said.

"We all want to see football fans back in the stadium, we want a packed house and for my first home game I'd love it to be packed to the rafters.

"I'd love the chanting, the excitement, you can feel it.

"I've said it before, to be walking across that bridge with a buzz around the place, the lights are on, there's no better atmosphere.

"So it's going to be strange, but some players have already had that at their clubs at Premier League and Championship level.

"The reason we play the game is to be in front of a packed house and the more fans the better, so it will be strange but we have to get our heads around it and be prepared for it.

"When we go away to Romania, it's a 60,000 capacity stadium, so with it being empty it is going to be strange, but again results suggest it's a leveller, so we can use that to our advantage."

Northern Ireland face Bosnia-Herzegovina in their Euro 2020 play-off semi-final on October 8 in Zenica and it would be a blow for the hosts if supporters are still out in the cold.

"The very reason they took us to Zenica is that it's a tight, packed stadium with 11,000 or 12,000," added Baraclough.

"The players, I think, actually demanded that they take the game there rather than the capital and they saw that as a benefit as the crowd would be on top of you. So again we have to look at that as a positive. If fans are allowed or not, we'll deal with it. If it's empty, hopefully it gives us more pointers towards a positive result."

A Uefa statement said: "Uefa and the General Secretaries of the 55 national associations met in a video conference today to discuss topics related to the restart of Uefa competitions in the light of the current situation; most notably those for clubs, national teams and youth...

"...Both Uefa and national associations are aware of the importance of allowing fans back into stadia but the situation in Europe is very fragmented.

"Uefa are constantly monitoring the evolution of the regulatory landscape in the different countries and a review of the situation is planned around mid-August to see if the current decision of playing all matches behind closed doors can be at least partially changed."

Former Northern Ireland Under-21 boss Baraclough insists it will be business as usual until medical advice demands a change of course.

"We're all focused on September 4 and September 7," he added.

"Until we're told otherwise, we're intending to fly to Romania having prepared in Belfast. Hopefully everything's safe.

"The Northern Ireland Executive has allowed us to go into Romania, stay in our own bubble, play the game, and come out that night."

Belfast Telegraph