Monday 22 January 2018

UEFA bow to pressure and grant extra tickets after Northern Ireland Euro 2016 ticket row

A Northern Ireland soccer fan at Windsor Park
A Northern Ireland soccer fan at Windsor Park

Adrian Rutherford and Allan Preston

The Northen Ireland First Minister has backed angry football fans who are crying foul after being told they face lockout from Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 adventure.

Many loyal supporters have been left devastated after missing out in the scramble for tickets.

Some who have followed the team for almost 20 years were told they would not be getting tickets to matches in France this summer.

But others who had never bought a Northern Ireland ticket said they had been successful.

Furious fans branded the ticketing fiasco "a shambles" and demanded answers from the IFA and Uefa.

Last night, First Minister Arlene Foster said she supported efforts by the IFA and Uefa "to ensure that the deserving supporters are rewarded with tickets".

"I recognise that many Northern Ireland fans are devastated at their failure to receive tickets for the European Championship," she said.

"It is vital that fans who have faithfully supported 'Our Wee Country' are acknowledged for their dedication and commitment.

"Euro 2016 will be an opportunity for our province to come together and celebrate a remarkable achievement for Northern Irish football. I would also call on Northern Ireland fans not to purchase tickets from any third party source."

Last night, Uefa bowed to mounting anger by allocating almost 1,000 extra tickets for Northern Ireland's opening game against Poland.

But supporters said it did not go far enough, as huge numbers looked set to miss out on our first major tournament in 30 years.

On a day of fast-moving developments:

- Some lifelong fans received emails yesterday morning saying their application for tickets had been unsuccessful;

- It then emerged a number who had attended none or just a handful of the qualifiers had struck lucky;

- The IFA issued a statement laying the blame on Uefa, European football's governing body;

- Stories emerged of fans who had spent thousands on flights and hotels, only to miss out on tickets;

- Uefa bowed to pressure, announcing almost 1,000 extra tickets for the Poland game;

-  But it offered no hope for fans who have missed out on the Ukraine and Germany clashes.

Last night, supporters told of their fury as the full extent of the shambles became clear.

Keith Greenlees from Belfast missed out on some of the tickets he wanted, and said he has to choose which of his two children to leave at home.

"Me and my 15-year-old son have tickets to the Germany and Ukraine matches and my 10-year-old doesn't have any," he explained. "I've a terrible choice to make now. It's crazy. It's a joke the way they've done it."

The ticket fiasco threatens to cast a shadow over the growing excitement surrounding Northern Ireland's first finals since the 1986 World Cup.

Michael O'Neill's side will play three group games, starting against Poland at the 35,000-capacity Stade de Nice on June 12.

Then it is on to Lyon for the game against Ukraine at the 59,000 Stade de Lyon on June 16.

They finish against world champions Germany at the Parc des Princes in Paris on June 21.

Tickets were on sale between December 14 and January 18. More than 50,000 applications were made, but less than 30,000 tickets were available.

The Irish FA had said fans' loyalty would be rewarded, with those who regularly attended matches during the qualifying campaign given priority.

But many block-bookers were told they had missed out.

The opening game against the Poles was a particular problem, with many regular fans left empty-handed.

Among those who failed to get tickets for this game was Gary McAllister from the Amalgamation of Official NI Supporters Clubs.

"It's very disappointing, not only for myself having missed out on one of the games, but for many other people I know who have also missed out," he said.

"There just seems to be a lot of inconsistency in how the tickets have been allocated.

"We have been inundated with supporters today who have attended games at Windsor Park and have travelled right through Windsor Park and beyond supporting the Northern Ireland team over a very long period of time who have been unsuccessful."

Yet some fans who did not buy a single ticket during the qualifying campaign were successful.

One fan said they had applied with no hope, having never bought a ticket for a Northern Ireland game, but were stunned to learn they had been successful for every match.

Block-booker Dave Brady applied for all three games with his wife - and did not get a single ticket.

"I have hotels and flights for Nice and Paris booked and arranged for my wife, and I have not received one single ticket," he said.

"I attended four away qualifying games. To say it's disappointing is an understatement."

Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson said: "Our top priority throughout this entire process has always been to ensure that those fans that attended Northern Ireland games home and away in recent years should be at the front of the queue when it comes to buying tickets for Uefa Euro 2016.

"Therefore, I would like to thank Uefa for working with the Irish FA to provide some resolution to this issue."

Uefa said: "Uefa are now in a position to make available extra tickets to ensure that those Northern Ireland fans at the top of the Irish FA's priority list will be able to attend the match.

"These tickets will be across all categories and those top-ranking fans who had missed out and who qualify for this new allocation will be contacted directly by Uefa towards the end of the month."

Belfast Telegraph

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