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Euro 2028: Irish Football Association rules out Windsor Park extension
The Irish FA says there is “no route to fund an expansion” of Windsor Park to make it an alternative venue for Euro 2028 – if the redevelopment of Casement Park is not completed in time.
The IFA responded to a suggestion from the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters’ Clubs to bring Windsor Park up to the required capacity for Euro 2028 games.
Casement Park, a gaelic games ground, will be NI’s host venue with a capacity of 34,500 but there are concerns over whether it will be ready in time.
Windsor Park is the home of the Northern Ireland team, but its all-seater capacity of 18,500 is well below the minimum 30,000 requirement for the tournament finals.
Some Northern Ireland fans displayed banners critical of the Casement Park plan at last month’s match against San Marino at Windsor Park, while there were also a number of negative chants.
The redevelopment of Casement Park has been hindered by a number of setbacks since first being suggested about a decade ago, including long-running legal challenges.
In a letter to the IFA, the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters’ Clubs noted its concerns and asked “What is the ‘plan B’ if Casement Park is not completed within the required timescale?
“With this in mind, has there been any proper exploration of the potential for the national stadium [Windsor Park] to receive investment to allow some increase in capacity, with the potential for further expansion by way of temporary seating?”
The group also expressed concerns over funding for the local game, the legacy for the sport by playing Euro 2028 games at Casement Park, and the safety of Northern Ireland fans travelling to the venue in an area of west Belfast which has a predominantly nationalist population.
But the IFA CEO Patrick Nelson responded: “There is no current funding opportunity from government for any extension to the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.
“The national stadium at Windsor Park is our home and a place we are proud of, but there is no route to fund an expansion.
“The alternative to the route we have chosen was not to have any ambition for Northern Ireland football and decline to be part of the bid. The matter of the funding for Casement Park is a consideration for government.
“The planning for the access and egress of fans to stadia [Casement Park] will be given every consideration with governmental partners and the PSNI. There is no question it will be overlooked and we will work closely and diligently on all aspects of this.
“This is a pivotal moment for football and society in this country. The Irish FA and the Amalgamation can be crucial in playing a positive role in this.”
Analysis – This isn’t just a sporting story or a stadium story… it’s a political story
Mark Simpson, BBC News NI correspondent
There is a race against time going on, a race to get Casement built on time, to get the money to build it and also to try get the fans on board.
Patrick Nelson’s language is significant. He wasn’t saying to the fans: “I hear you, I feel your pain, we’ve all got to grin and bear this.”
He was on the front foot saying: “We don’t have the money to pay for expansion at Windsor Park, we have to go to Casement and you have to get on board.”
The elephant in the room is that this isn’t just a sporting story, a stadium story – it’s a political story.
It’s been a political football for many, many years and Patrick Nelson doesn’t ignore that saying: “Given that people here on a journey after a difficult past it would be a shame if we missed this opportunity for better engagement between the communities. This is a pivotal moment for football and society.”
I’ve spoken to fans at matches and they don’t all feel the same. Some don’t love the idea of going to Casement Park but say if Northern Ireland are playing they’ll be there. Some fans say they will not go, no matter the circumstances and others are in the Patrick Nelson camp of “for the greater good, let’s back this”.
I daresay we’ll be back at Windsor Park on Monday night to ask fans what they think of this latest development.