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Irish FA hoping to welcome 'modest increase' in Northern Ireland fans for Euro 2020 play-off as football authorities to continue to admit supporters

 

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Northern Ireland fans returned to Windsor Park earlier this month.

Northern Ireland fans returned to Windsor Park earlier this month.

©INPHO/Brian Little

Northern Ireland fans returned to Windsor Park earlier this month.

The Irish FA are hoping for a 'modest' increase in supporters for Northern Ireland's Euro 2020 play-off at Windsor Park as football fans are set to continue watching matches live.

Ulster Rugby confirmed on Wednesday that their next two fixtures would be played behind closed doors in a move that they said was made in line with "the views of the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor in Northern Ireland".

The GAA will play their inter-county fixtures without supporters during the current four-week period of Stormont restrictions, which began last Friday.

However, the Northern Ireland Football League will continue to admit supporters to grounds for Danske Bank Premiership matches for this weekend's second round of fixtures.

The Irish FA welcomed 600 supporters into Windsor Park for the UEFA Nations League defeat to Austria earlier this month and now IFA CEO Patrick Nelson has told a Stormont committee that he hopes that number could go up for the November 12 Euro 2020 play-off tie against Slovakia.

"We believe we could expand that number modestly and appropriately within the current regulations," he told Thursday's Communities Committee meeting of the NI Assembly.

"But we will work with Belfast City Council to work our what the right number would be."

Communities Minister Caral Ni Chuilin had appealed to sporting bodies, in a meeting on Monday, to abide by her guidance of locking supporters out, even if the current restrictions allow for their attendance.

However, the Irish FA, unlike Ulster Rugby and the GAA, are set to continue to admit fans.

"It's our job to obey the regulations, as they are printed, and we obey the regulations," said Nelson.

He added: "Safe capacities have been agreed. Structures have been agreed. Hand sanitisation, temperature checking, social distancing. All of that has been agreed with the relevant safety authorities for every ground.

"We have 18,534 seats at The National Football Stadium, and we work hard along with our stadium manifest and ticket provider to work out which seats can be used and can't be used."

The Irish FA are conscious of the fact that the presence of even a small number of supporters could provide a significant boost to Northern Ireland's chances of beating Slovakia and making it through to the Euro 2020 finals.

"The Euros is one of the biggest tournaments you can find. It is certainly one of the biggest sporting tournaments in the world," Nelson said.

"We certainly lit it up last time with our team and our fans, and we certainly want to be back there again.

"It is fabulous that we've got the opportunity on November 12.

"We would hope to have some spectators inside the ground for that game. Of course, as long as the regulations allow us to do that.

"We have actually led the way throughout the whole of the UK over the last few months in bringing spectators back on a safe basis into the ground."

Belfast Telegraph


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