Northern Ireland fans who feared they would miss their country’s game with Serbia through no fault of their own have welcomed a decision by UEFA to allow them into the game. Nigel Worthington’s side faces Serbia in Belgrade in March and UEFA had demanded that the match be played behind closed doors after rioting caused Serbia's last qualifier against Italy in October to be abandoned just six minutes into the game.
However, European football’s governing body has agreed to what Northern Ireland’s fans have described as “the best possible outcome”. The Irish Football Association (IFA) took their fight for the fans to UEFA president Michel Platini and ensured 200 away fans would be allowed into the game.
Many of these supporters had planned their trip and purchased non-refundable flights to Belgrade almost a year ago before there was any need to play the game behind closed doors. Subsequent events in Italy saw supporters banned and UEFA ruled out the possibility of compensating fans for the cost of travel. Thankfully Platini and co did agree to allow away fans access to the supposedly closed doors game.
“The worst case scenario would have been for UEFA to insist on the game being played behind closed doors, some of our fans still wanting to go because they had paid for their flights and ending up at the stadium on match day and their safety being compromised,” said Gary McAllister of the Amalgamation of Northern Ireland Supporters’ Clubs.
“Instead we feel that Uefa’s decision to allow a small number of fans into the match is the best possible outcome. Financial compensation was ruled out because it could have set a very dangerous precedent, particularly if a bigger nation with a large travelling support was to be involved in something like this, rather than 200 people.”
A statement from the IFA read: “A number of suggestions were put forward in order to address the issue of Northern Ireland supporters who had already booked to travel to the Euro 2012 qualifier in Serbia in March prior to the decision by Uefa to play the game behind closed doors. At this meeting Uefa made it clear that a small number of Northern Ireland fans who fit into this category will be allowed to attend the match.”
In a goodwill gesture UEFA has also promised to provide any fans who are booked to travel to Belgrade, but decide not to make the journey with a complimentary ticket for the Europa League final at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium in May. “I know some people who were planning to take either their children or partners to Belgrade and they are now reconsidering,” said McAllister. “The Europa League ticket idea came from UEFA and it's a nice gesture from them.”
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