Sacré bleu....ticket fiasco hits local fans

Gareth McAuley celebrates Northern Ireland qualifying for the Euro Finals for the first time in their history.

Gareth McAuley celebrates Northern Ireland qualifying for the Euro Finals for the first time in their history.

Northern Ireland fans have had their fair share of ups and downs to contend with in supporting their team over the years.

Last week though many of them suffered a blow which left them floored.

Northern Ireland fans celebrate after they win 3-1 and qualify for the finals in France. 

Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Northern Ireland fans celebrate after they win 3-1 and qualify for the finals in France. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Since qualifying for the European Championships with victory over Greece in October the Green and White Army have been making plans for a summer invasion to France.

Thousands went through the allocation system hoping to secure tickets to watch their team compete in their first major championship since 1986, in what is sure to be a trip of a lifetime.

But on Tuesday those dreams were in tatters for many fans as they received the dreaded news their application for some tickets had been unsuccessful.

This included a vast number of block bookers who had accumulated a high number of points through their attendance at the qualifying group games.

Stephen Barr, who has been attending games since first going with his father to see Northern Ireland take on Denmark in 1978, missed out on tickets for the Poland game despite attending all five home games and three away games during the qualifiers.

“I’ve been looking forward to us qualifying for 30 years,” Stephen told Times Sport.

“I was too young for Spain in ‘82, I was still at school for Mexico four years later, so this is the first chance I’ve had to see Northern Ireland at a major tournament.

“Since I moved back from London in January 2001, I have missed one home game in 15 years.

“I applied for all three group games, the round of 16 and the Quarter Final. There’s confidence for you!

“So you can imagine I was very disappointed indeed not to get a ticket for the Poland game in Nice, although relieved to be allocated tickets for the others.”

Stephen has travelled the world watching his country play taking in 30 games from places like the USA, Iceland, Estonia and Malta. But he is one of a large number of fans who have missed out on the Poland game.

“There are a numnber of fans I know in the same boat,” he said.

“These are people who have a high number of loyalty points (20 plus) and who have been regular attenders home and away.

“I even know of two cases where such people received no tickets for ANY games, which is simply unacceptable and incomprehensible.

“I think that the loyalty scheme has not been applied at all in the allocation of tickets. Some people who have never set foot inside Windsor Park or seen a Northern Ireland match have got tickets, yet loyal fans who travel home and away have been left out.

“There is mo ideal solution here, and many deserving cases will lose out. All the IFA and UEFA can do is try and mitigate the damage that has sadly already been done.

“What is needed is fairness and transparency and we have had neither.”

Since the news broke last week the IFA has been pressing UEFA for additional tickets so as fans like Stephen can can their tickets.

“As a member of the North Coast NISC, I know that representations have been mader to the Amalgamation of Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs who have been lobbying on the fans behalf,” he said.

“I understand that good work by the IFA has resulted in almost 1,000 additional tickets being made available for the Poland game for fans with a high number of loyalty points (18 plus was the figure given), so if the IFA loyalty scheme works, then I should be able to get a ticket via this route.”

Steven McAlary is another local fan who missed out on tickets for the Poland game even though he too had a high points tally from the qualifiers.

“I went to every home game and went to the away games in Hungary and Finland,” he told Times Sport.

“I was in complete shock when I got the news as I was under the impression because of the points I had incurred over the campaign that this wouldn’t be an issue.”

Steven has also travelled far and wide to watch his beloved country as part of the Coleraine Northern Ireland Supporters’ Club.

Unfortunately only 16 of the 32 club members were successful in the application for the Poland game.

“This is new territory as in our previous 10 years we have always had 100% success rate in securing tickets for our members,” said Steven, who was one of the unlucky ones.

“All members who were unsuccessful were high in the points system, whereas some of our successful applicants were at the lower end of the points system.

“The points system in theory was the fairest way of distributing tickets as it would reward fans who have been regularly attending games. Unfortunately evidence has shown that this was not implemented correctly.”

Steven, who has had his transport and accomodation booked since qualification, hasn’t given up hope yet though of securing a ticket.

“Yes hopefully I will get sorted out in the extra 1,000 tickets the IFA have managed to secure in the past week,” he said.

“If no luck then I will apply via the resale portal which should open soon.”

Another local fan, Roy O’Brien, though has been left ticketless despite being a regular member of the Green & White Army.

Roy took to Facebook posting a screenshot of his email from UEFA which delivered the bad news he had been unsuccessful in his application for all three games.

‘Nothing more to add’ a stunned Roy posted.

He is determined not to let it put a dampner on things though and said he will still be heading off to France to cheer on his heroes!

“I’m going out for the party anyway,” he said.

There may be some hope for the disappointed fans though as the IFA CEO, Patrick Nelson, confirmed the additional tickets are ‘going to be focussed on those people who were disappointed for the Poland game’.

“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,” he said.

He added UEFA would contact these people in the near future, and a new “ticket portal” will be opened “specifically for that game, for those people”.