Belfast Telegraph

Irish FA defend 'fair' ticket process as thousands miss Switzerland trip for Northern Ireland's World Cup play-off

And the IFA says it will continue to lobby the Swiss FA for more tickets

By Graham Luney

Thousands of Northern Ireland fans have been frozen out of the historic World Cup play-off second leg showdown against Switzerland in Basel next month, but the Irish Football Association says it is fighting to secure more tickets for away supporters.

The Swiss FA set aside 1,750 tickets for away fans, which is 5% of the 35,000 capacity of the St Jakob-Park stadium, but the IFA has revealed that 42% of applicants were unsuccessful and are now unable to get their hands on a ticket for the November 12 clash.

The association, however, maintains its ticket process has been "fair" with a spokesperson adding: "Those campaign card holders who had travelled to the most away games were at the front of the queue when it came to buying tickets for the away play-off."

Michael O'Neill's men face Switzerland at Windsor Park in the first leg three days earlier but a depleted Green and White Army will head to Basel.

The Irish FA say that all applicants who had purchased tickets for at least two away matches through their Irish FA account were successful in getting tickets for the game in Basel.

Tickets were only made available to 2016-17 campaign card holders, based on one ticket per campaign card, and all applicants were ranked through tickets that had been bought over the campaign on their account.

But problems arose when the points total for each account was divided by the number of campaign cards within that account to produce an average points total. The Irish FA worked with the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs to rectify any problems and, in an additional measure, the association wrote to every lead booker with an expression of interest form and requested further information on home and away games attended and how many supporters intended to travel to Basel.

This meant that no supporter was disadvantaged by having non-travelling fans in their account.

A spokesperson for the Irish FA said: “There was always going to be huge demand for a game of this significance, and what was important was those campaign card holders who had travelled to the most away games were at the front of the queue when it came to buying tickets for the away play-off.

“This was achieved by looking at every application on its own merits, both on the points gained on the account and on the individual games attended. We would like to thank the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs (AONISC) for their assistance throughout this process. The Irish FA will continue to lobby the Swiss FA for more tickets for the game.”

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AONISC spokesperson Gary McAllister

Gary McAllister, spokesperson for the AONISC, welcomed the Irish FA’s move to create a fairer system.

“When you bear in mind we have about 12,000 campaign card holders and only 1,750 tickets are made available to our fans you can understand the frustration felt by many supporters,” he said.

“Problems arose when the average points total relating to the campaign cards were worked out, leaving some fans who had attended all five away games in the campaign frustrated, but I also acknowledge the work that has gone in to rectify that and make the system as fair as possible. We are now in a position which is not ideal but it is a better outcome than where we were last Tuesday.

“With us being allocated only five per cent of a ground’s capacity there is going to be a shortfall, and that’s why the Irish FA and supporters need to be fully aware of these issues to minimise disappointment.

“There are lessons here for all of us to learn and the Irish FA should look to devise a loyalty points system which can work effectively in the future. We should all sit down after the play-offs and sort that out.”

Switzerland’s 900-ticket allocation for the first leg at Windsor Park sold out within an hour.

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