Belfast Telegraph

Blame game over Windsor Park's doomed Kop stand could end up in court

By Steven Beacom

It was just after 12.30pm yesterday when Irish FA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson finally confirmed football's worst kept secret... the Kop Stand at Windsor Park was coming down.

The demolition of the famous structure, scene of so much joy for thousands of Northern Ireland fans - and let's not forget supporters of Linfield and other Irish League sides as well - was to start in weeks.

Nelson and his IFA colleagues were in Room 30 in Stormont addressing a Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure.

IFA President Jim Shaw was there, so too the Chairman of the IFA board Leslie Caul and Maurice Johnston, the IFA board's Independent Technical Advisor who also happens to be an architect. Handy that!

A question and answer session lasted 45 minutes - one half of football - when in particular committee members Gordon Dunne (DUP) and Basil McCrea (NI21) tested the governing body officials.

What happened after that was even more interesting when the committee had the chance to talk amongst themselves about what they had just heard, especially in relation to who was to blame for the structural problems on the Kop, discovered just two days after 4,000 fans had been in it for Northern Ireland's 2-1 Euro 2016 qualifier victory over Finland.

Mr Dunne noted: "There are major questions that need to be answered about why there was a failure, what caused the failure and we need to keep the pressure on that there will be no re-occurance of this happening. I do have my personal fears that this whole thing could end up in court at some time."

And there it was, the elephant in the room. Looming large.

Every time the committee tried to get to the bottom of who was responsible, the IFA batted back the questions.

"Too early to say," was the stock response from Nelson. On one occasion he added: "We will not rest until we find the cause." On another he stated: "In the end there will be a bill for this and all parties will want to know where that bill should go."

You bet they will. The new Kop stand could cost up to £8million. Some in the construction industry would tell you £10million.

Asked if they were confident that there would be no financial implications for the IFA, Johnston spoke about the contract between the Association and Windsor building contractors O'Hare and McGovern, saying: "It is very difficult to say because you don't want to prejudice anything down the line. What I would be confident of is that we will use the form of contract to the best mechanism to restrict any liabilities."

Another contentious issue surrounded the IFA's confidence that they will have Windsor ready for Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 game at home to Romania on June 13.

With the Kop out of commission, 4,000 new seats are being transported to Belfast to be placed in the South and Railway Stands to bring the capacity up to 10,000 meaning all the IFA's block bookers, Romania fans and officials will be accommodated.

One committee member said: "The Health and Safety people at the City Hall, or indeed any Council, will not be dictated to by pressures and the need for the game to be played, nor should they be. If there are concerns and issues that are not addressed I do hope there is a Plan B."

There is no Plan B. The IFA are confident that Plan A is all they need.

And if you believe the Chairman of the Board, the atmosphere at Windsor will be even better for the Romania game than it was for the 2-1 victory over Finland when the fans on the Kop almost raised the roof, soon to be taken off before the Stand comes tumbling down.

Caul said: "It turns out to be a huge irony that we have been playing international matches with the crowd on two sides of the ground on the West (Kop) Stand side and the North Stand. With what is proposed by the integrated design team the stadium will become a U shape almost surrounded by fans.

"The irony shouldn't be lost on us that this has happened because of this awful disaster on the West (Stand) and if we are able to carry out the accelerated programme, as we hope to, then in fact the conditions for fans and for players would be advantageous.

"We will not be playing at any less of a stadium. We will actually be playing in a better stadium in terms of atmosphere on June 13."

I guess we'll all believe that one when we hear it. The Kop is a special place and has helped score goals for Northern Ireland in the past.

Yesterday the IFA Board ratified the recommended move from structural experts to bring the whole thing down. It won't be there when Romania are in town for the top of the table Group F clash in June.

Nelson, who insisted the communication with the fans which he has been criticised for has been "absolutely fine" in the past fortnight, told the Committee: "We have an international game to play in eight weeks and the project plan allows for the planning, preparation and demolition work to be carried out well inside that.

"That's a piece of work that needs to start now. The decision we have taken allows the planning to take place for demolition and the entire plan will be put together over the next week or so.

"We won't be destroying any evidence by demolishing the Stand. The ground conditions will have been thoroughly studied along with all other aspects."

There is no timeframe yet for the completion of the new Kop. Once out of the meeting, the IFA released a statement detailing their news. Now the rush is on to get Windsor ready for Romania.

Belfast Telegraph


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