Lease of life for Windsor
Northern Ireland could be playing at a new-look 18,000 capacity all-seater Windsor Park as early as 2015.
And a planned national centre of excellence could boost the international team’s chances of making it to the finals of major tournaments, Irish Football Association representatives told the committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure at Stormont yesterday.
Windsor Park, which will get a £25m facelift thanks to government funding, could also be in line to stage major concerts.
The first step towards revamping Windsor Park will see the IFA sign a new deal with owners, Linfield for running the stadium.
This will replace the controversial 100-year agreement which was signed in 1983 and awarded Linfield 15 per cent of the profits from international games.
IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson said: “We will soon formalise a new agreement between the IFA and Linfield.
“We have an agreement for a new structure in the future.
“Formalising that is one of our next steps and a new legal team will be brought in to do this.
“The IFA will take out a 40-year lease and Linfield will still play at the stadium.”
Mr Nelson continued: “We are working to develop more detailed business plans for the future operation of Windsor Park.
“18.000 seats instead of the current 13,000 thousand will enhance revenue streams.
“Some of the added capacity will be premium seating which will increase revenue further.
“There will also be rentable space for things like conferences and parties.
“Windsor Park could also host non-football events such as concerts or other sports and the money generated would then be re-invested in football.
“In terms of concerts, we could offer a capacity of close to 20,000.
“Certain bands attract that size of audience.”
The IFA are in the process of appointing a Project Sponsor to oversee the re-development of Windsor Park.
Mr Nelson explained: “The person appointed will run the project and will be responsible for making the project happen.”
There will also be £36m made available by the government for a national centre of excellence, a regional centre of excellence and the refurbishment of other local football stadiums.
Mr Nelson said: “Several stadiums will be enhanced, mostly at Premier League level, although also some at intermediate level.
“We are also looking at national and regional centres of excellence.
“It would be great to qualify for a first major finals since 1986 and these centres would help in that respect.
“These centres could potentially be attached to a club or could be on a greenfield site with a partner such as a council,” he added.
Mr Nelson explained that he envisaged all the various Northern Ireland international teams benefiting from the proposed centres.
“We would want to bring all our international teams to the centres,” said the IFA Chief Executive.
“We have eight international teams plus various development squads.
“Our aim is to provide them with the best possible facilities, sports science and nutritional advice.
“We want to give our young players the best chance to make it in the professional game.
“The proposed regional centre would, if possible, be separate from the national centre and be outside Belfast.
“We would want it to be accessible to intermediate and junior players as well.
“The two centres would be on very different scales,” he explained.
February 2016 was mooted as a target date for the re-developed Windsor Park, although IFA President Jim Shaw said he was hopeful the work — which will not stop Linfield playing at the stadium — could be completed even earlier.
Mr Shaw said: “The intention is to develop the stadium without stopping football being played there, so Linfield will continue to play there throughout.
“During the process, we will look at the completion timescale and try to get there as quickly as possible.
“At last we are getting moving on a project that has been around for a long time. It will be a very significant refurbishment that will give us an excellent stadium for the future.”
The financial package for football, GAA and rugby had been delayed because of government worries over the way the IFA was being run by a previous administration.
But it’s now all systems go for the ‘new’ Windsor Park.