Its incestuous deal with Linfield Football Club is partly responsible for the mess in which the Irish F.A. finds itself as regards an international stadium. The local governing body signed a contract which stipulated that Northern Ireland would play at Windsor Park for a century, with all the extra revenue that guaranteed the venue’s owners. No unambiguous clause, demanding that the crumbling stadium be maintained in accordance with the requirements of international football, was included.
The I.F.A. has helped Linfield improve a valuable capital asset which the club has subsequently allowed to fall into disrepair, but it is still obliged either to use the stadium or pay compensation for a broken contract. Which is not to consider the fortune that our administrators have paid to use a stadium which they helped to finance, damaging the competitiveness of the league which it is their responsibility to oversee and compromising the cross community credentials of that competition and the international team. Inept, farcical, absurd.
It would be fair to suppose that Linfield FC has something of a brass-neck to propose a further upgrade to its dilapidated home, which could cost the taxpayer £20 million, in order that international revenues can continue to fill its bank account. The club also suggests that a new arrangement could replace the 100 year contract requiring Northern Ireland to fulfil home fixtures at Windsor Park, which has 80 years to run. An offer of questionable generosity, given that the Irish Football Association would effectively be committed to staging international matches at the ground for the foreseeable future, if they were to secure public funding.
If these proposed improvements offer the most cost effective means to provide Northern Ireland with an international home in Belfast then, unfortunately, they must be considered. But the Assembly and sports’ authorities should remember that another scheme has been suggested, for a brand new arena in east Belfast. And if Linfield is to get yet more subsidised improvements to its stadium, justified by international requirements, a tough new deal should be struck whereby the I.F.A. agrees to contribute more to the ground’s upkeep, but international revenues do not accrue to Windsor Park’s owners.