A home match against San Marino isn’t usually something that gets football fans excited, but for Northern Ireland fans, the match on 8th October will see the renovation of Windsor Park finally completed, with four permanent stands at the ground for the first time in six years.
You’d think rebuilding a football stadium would be easy. However, this is Northern Ireland and we don’t do things easily.
Finally, Windsor Park is almost redeveloped and ready for action, and new memories will be made.
After endless discussions, delays and frivolous legal claims to the EU, it was finally confirmed in late 2013 that redevelopment of the stadium would begin in 2014.
Over the next few weeks building up to the San Marino game, we’ll be looking back at the journey that saw Windsor Park get redeveloped. To get an understanding of how we got there, we have to go back to the start, and remember what Windsor Park looked like before the renovations.
But how did we get here?
Our journey begins in 2000, just three years after an all seater Kop was built, when Ernie Walker of UEFA warned that Windsor Park (and other stadiums in Northern Ireland) might not be able to meet the standard to host matches.
By 2003, there were concerns about doping facilities for players.
By the end of the year, England and Wales were drawn to visit Belfast in the 2006 World Cup Qualifiers, and the then Sports Minister, Michael McGimpsey wanted to ensure the games took place in Belfast.
In 2004, the Strategic Investment Board were investigating the feasibility of a multi-sport stadium for Northern Ireland, based on Bolton’s Reebok Stadium.
Three locations were drawn up for a proposed new multi-sport stadium.
By early 2005, the government were told that a 30,000 capacity sport stadium was the best use for The Maze.
The government proposed a stadium at The Maze, but there were logistical issues.
Politicians wanted a stadium built at The Maze, but the most important people – the fans- didn’t. So, that was scrapped.
They blasted the secrecy that surrounded the government’s plans.
The Maze Stadium was conceived in early 2006, to be opened in 2010 and hosting events at the 2012 Olympics.
After consulting with Football, Rugby and GAA, the plans for the stadium at The Maze were redrawn.
2007 got off to a ominous start, when storm damage to the North Stand meant that Linfield’s match against Limavady United had to be postponed.
A senior figure in tourism voiced his concerns about The Maze as a stadium venue.
Fans were later assured that the ground was safe.
Meanwhile, smoking was also banned.
Crusaders voiced their disapproval of The Maze, stating that any new stadium should be in Belfast.
The Railway Stand, rarely used anyway, was put out of action in March 2007.
In April 2007, supporters of a stadium at The Maze got good news when the pro-Maze MLA Edwin Poots became Sports Minister for Northern Ireland.
In the summer of 2007, the IFA were hoping to terminate their contract to use Windsor Park for internationals.
They were publicly backed by the then Northern Ireland manager, Nigel Worthington.
The pro Maze propaganda continued, with the IFA threatening to take home friendlies outside of Northern Ireland.
While Peter Robinson was open minded on The Maze stadium. Yes you read that right, the DUP were open minded on something.
Research conducted by Belfast City Council suggested that any stadium should be in the city.
Ormeau Road residents were hoping that it wouldn’t be at Ormeau Park. We do love a good ole fashioned Resident’s Group Protest in Northern Ireland.
They need not worry, as wherever Northern Ireland played their matches in the future, it wouldn’t be at Ormeau Park, as Ian Paisley did what he loved most, and said no to something.
In September 2007, any plans for a stadium at Ormeau Park were rejected by Belfast City Council.
Towards the end of 2007, there were concerns over the future of the South Stand.
That summer, Edwin Poots blasted Civil Servants for trying to stop The Maze from happening.
Delays over funding to stadium redevelopment saw the AONISC warn that home games might have to be moved outside Northern Ireland.
Early in 2009, it was confirmed that no stadium would be built at The Maze.
The Maze might have died, but Blanchflower Park, a 25,000 capacity stadium in East Belfast was now proposed.
Eventually, the IFA did an about turn, and backed Windsor Park as their venue for internationals.
The start of the 2010-2011 saw work being done to the North Stand that saw away fans moved to The Kop, while Linfield fans were based in the South Stand.
Towards the end of the summer of 2010, it was confirmed that the Railway Stand was to be demolished within weeks. It was gone by the end of August.
In December 2010, freezing weather caused burst pipes to cause some damage to the ground.
Linfield’s match against Crusaders saw away fans being given half of The Kop due to damage to the North Stand.