Vauxhall sponsorship puts IFA in driving seat
There were plenty of smiles at the top table in the viewing lounge at Windsor Park yesterday and no wonder.
The Irish Football Association had just agreed the biggest sponsorship deal in its history.
Vauxhall Motors have shone a bright light through the economic gloom by promising to hand over £40million to the Home Nations — the IFA and their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales.
The IFA could net at least £5million from commercial and television deals, particularly if the Home Nations tournament is revived.
The bumper three-and-a half year deal has generated fresh speculation that the Home International Championships will return — possibly incorporating the Republic of Ireland as well.
Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington was reluctant to dream too much about the prospect because he doesn’t want to be disrespectful to the Carling Nations Cup which is kicking off next month involving Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
However the FA are not ruling anything out and, at the very least, they will consider a one-off series of games in 2013. Support for a return of the Home International series is spreading and if the Carling tournament is a roaring success England will want a slice of the excitement.
England chiefs may have held the view that playing Northern Ireland would not enhance their development but Worthington doesn’t share that opinion.
“If England were to get involved in any tournament that would be terrific for all the home nations,” said Worthington.
“Everybody’s got their own decisions to make for their own reasons and I saw an interesting comment from the English FA, somebody within saying that by not playing too many British games it gives them a greater experience of the European style which I think is interesting.
“As far as I am concerned, travelling around Europe in one-off friendlies where stadiums and training surfaces have not been ideal, we have learned a lot and I see these three games coming up as very, very valuable exercises from our own point of view by introducing young players and letting them see what international football is all about.
“The one thing that we should do is give the Carling Nations Cup the respect that it deserves.
“It is the upcoming competition over the next three months and 2013 is a long way away,” he said.
“There is a lot of negotiation before those games can happen and my focus is on them and on February 9 (v Scotland at Dublin's new Aviva Stadium) and we go forward from there.”
The old Home International series featuring England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales was last played in 1984, when Northern Ireland were champions.
Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson, who referred to the sponsorship deal as “fantastic news for Northern Ireland football”, said he would not oppose the resurrection of the tournament.
“We are focused on the Carling Nations Cup which is going to take place starting next month in Dublin but we are aware of the
FA’s interest in holding a series of friendlies in 2013 which coincides with their 150th anniversary,” said Nelson.
“It’s very early days at the moment but we are open to any sorts of thoughts like that.”
The IFA have held talks with their English counterparts with the goal of bringing England to Belfast to mark a new, improved Windsor Park but Nelson says no deal has been struck yet.
“It would be very premature to say England are coming here,” said Nelson.
“We are still working with our devolved government to see if there is finance to rebuild the historic stadium that we are in so it’s definitely too early to talk about who might open it at whatever date.”
Vauxhall’s sponsorship agreement with the Irish FA will incorporate the Euro 2012 Championship and 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
As well as the senior men’s team, the partnership includes the women’s international team and all national age group outfits.
Vauxhall managing director Duncan Aldred said: “Vauxhall is firmly behind not only a successful Northern Ireland senior team but is also committed to supporting grass roots initiatives covering youth and junior football as well as women’s football and disability football.”