IFA stand firm on Windsor Park tickets for potential all-Ireland Euro 2020 showdown
Irish Football Association chiefs have no intention of giving up any tickets set aside for Northern Ireland supporters in a potential Euro 2020 play-off final at Windsor Park next year, even if neighbours Republic of Ireland are in the decider.
Should an all-Ireland contest with high stakes take place on March 31, the FAI are keen to increase the seat allocation for their own fans - but the IFA are under no obligation to go above 5% of the stadium’s capacity for away spectators.
In order to maximise home advantage as much as possible and stay loyal to those who have roared the team on during the qualifying campaign, the IFA will stand firm ensuring that they would have around 17,500 supporters inside Windsor for the derby, with the Republic taking up approximately 925 spaces.
It’s a decision which will go down well with the Green and White Army desperately hoping to see their heroes reach the glamour stages of the European Championships for a second time in succession after enjoying the tournament in France in 2016.
Northern Ireland versus the Republic is a match that may never happen but already four months away from a potential all-island showdown, plans are wisely being drawn up given the magnitude of the clash and security concerns surrounding it.
Michael O’Neill’s side must win in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Mick McCarthy’s men need to triumph in Slovakia on March 26 to set up one of the biggest football matches ever staged in Belfast five days later.
If Northern Ireland and Slovakia qualify for a final shoot-out, the IFA’s stance on tickets will be the same.
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Earlier this month when asked about a potential match between North and South in Belfast, outgoing FAI President Donal Conway said: “There not being any huge security concerns, we would take our allocation and in that instance we would try to enhance our allocation. We’d have very good strong relationships with the IFA.”
That may be the case, with both nations involved in a ‘home nations’ bid along with England, Scotland and Wales for the 2030 World Cup finals, as well as jointly bidding for the Under-21 European Championships in 2023, but such a request will be given short shrift by the powers that be at the IFA.
On the Republic’s last two visits to Belfast in 1993 and 1994 there were restrictions on away fans. The IFA would not see it that way this time if the match comes to pass believing they would be abiding by UEFA regulations.
While preparations for a possible final will continue behind the scenes, the IFA have been clear in public that the match they are focusing on right now is the play-off semi-final which will be a real test for Northern Ireland, having lost home and away to Bosnia and Herzegovina in last year’s Nations League.
The Bosnians will formally announce the venue for the March 26 encounter prior to Christmas with thousands of Northern Ireland followers expected to travel.
The IFA have also been careful with regard to manager O’Neill’s situation stressing the Stoke City manager will be in charge for the play-offs. If successful in reaching the Euro 2020 finals, the players want O’Neill to be boss then as well.
Belfast Telegraph Digital