Monday 16 September 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'FAI should rock on with Gibraltar's plans - and make sure loyal fans get tickets'


The FAI are operating on the basis that the match will take place in the 2,300-capacity Victoria Stadium. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
The FAI are operating on the basis that the match will take place in the 2,300-capacity Victoria Stadium. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
McCarthy: first game in Euro 2020 qualifiers will be away in Gibraltar. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / UEFA via Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The news that Gibraltar plan to host the March 23 encounter with Ireland on their own patch presents a massive headache for the FAI.

But the right thing to do is grin and bear it - even if it creates an unhealthy scramble for tickets ahead of Mick McCarthy's first night back in the dugout.

The process will be a test for the Abbotstown method of managing access for away fixtures.

And it would appear that the FAI are prepared to do that given they are working with Gibraltar on the logistics of staging the fixture at the 2,300-capacity Victoria Stadium.

A site visit has been arranged, and that is the window for the away organisation can raise concerns they might have about the venue under a couple of headings. It would be petty territory to go down given that Gibraltar - whatever your opinion of the place might be - would be at a massive disadvantage if the game was switched to Faro.

Their press officer pointed out yesterday that it's unreasonable to ask their fans to travel 400km to watch their team at home.

Only a smattering were present for the match with Ireland in 2015, with travelling supporters enjoying a sunny trip to Portugal making all of the noise. Essentially, it was a home match for the visitors.

Gibraltar were able to play their UEFA Nations League matches on their own patch and managed to create a decent atmosphere in a tight stadium, with the artificial pitch another element in the underdogs' favour. That's fair game, given they need every bit of help they can get.

In recent memory, Ireland have travelled to smaller venues. Andorra hosted Giovanni Trapattoni's team at the 850-capacity Estadi Communal in 2011. On that occasion, both associations had lobbied UEFA to move the game to Barcelona - with the natives seeing the euro signs - but the request was rejected.

This time around, the difference is that the opposition desperately want to stage the match in their locality. It would be mean-spirited to oppose it.

Georgia have always wanted to do Ireland over because they take a dim view of the FAI's role in the switching of the 2008 World Cup qualifier between the sides - which just happened to be Trapattoni's competitive bow - from Tbilisi to Mainz due to instability in the intended hosts' region.

It was FIFA that made the call after the Irish voiced concerns.

Gibraltar do plan to upgrade their ground and, by the letter of the law, they need an 8,000-seater stadium to meet UEFA Category 4 status.

It would be ironic if the FAI took issue with a kind approach from the governing body.

In theory, Tallaght Stadium did not quite meet the criteria for holding Dundalk's Europa League group stage matches in 2016 but the FAI helped the respective parties to get the approval from UEFA - which was the sensible course of action.

Indeed, the FAI could be accused of taking a relaxed view when it comes to dispensations related to facilities on their own patch.

A number of clubs have been able to play at Premier Division level on the understanding that their grounds will get up to speed with licensing requirements eventually - or a promise that stadium plans are in place. Derogations are the order of the day; whether it suits away fans and officials or not.

The priority for the FAI now should be to ensure that the right supporters get access to the Gibraltar encounter. Ticket business can be tricky.

The low number available for the Euro 2016 qualifier with Scotland caused consternation with regular travellers complaining they were overlooked. An away fans portal is in place which logs attendance for away matches and it was applied for the World Cup play-off in Denmark last year.

The FAI apportion a certain amount of tickets to affiliated supporters clubs and sponsors, while decisions in the 'independent' category were made on the basis of the number of away matches attended in the last two games and ownership of a season ticket for the Aviva.

Although they are working off a much smaller number, the FAI should ensure this sector are well looked after.

There will be a balancing act required but the right thing to do is prioritise regulars that would be queueing up to go to this match no matter where it was taking place - and no matter who was in charge.

Irish Independent

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