Sunday penalty

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

POLITICIAN and self-confessed Northern Ireland football fanatic Jim Wells was not in the stands on Sunday to watch his beloved team win a crucial World Cup qualifier.

Mr Wells wasn't there to witness Northern Ireland'S 2:0 victory over Norway at Windsor Park as the fixture was on a Sunday.

And as a result of international football matches now taking place on the Sabbath, the DUP Assemblyman feels that the Irish Football Association should consider introducing an option for season ticket holders to only pay for the games that their religious beliefs allow them to attend.

“I am a season ticket holder for NI and have been supporting NI for almost 50 years.

“The first match I attended was in 1970 and I saw George Best play many times, which was an absolute privilege. In those days there was no question of a match being played on a Sunday," Mr Wells told The Outlook.

Prior to 2015, the Northern Ireland team did play international matches on a Sunday, however, these games took place away from Windsor Park.

The Irish Football Association (IFA) had always scheduled home games to be played on another day. However, when UEFA launched its week of football programme for the Euro 2016 qualifiers, the IFA had no choice but to play a home match on the Sunday.

Mr Wells says there are "six other days in the week" and he cannot understand why the matches can't be played on one of those days.

Mr Wells described Sunday as "a day of rest" and that sporting matches on the Sabbath have a knock-on effect for others.

“Sunday is a day of rest and for church attendance and family.

“By supporting football on a Sunday it also means that other people who maybe didn't work on a Sunday, now have to. People like security staff, groundsmen, police officers. All of these people now have to work because the match is on a Sunday, the residents around Windsor Park will also have their Sundays completely destroyed".

He would hope that "eventually these matches will not be played on a Sunday" however he recognises that this is "unlikely to happen".

“People who are Christians and have an interest in sport or who are good at sport may not be able to participate later in life if their sporting matches are played on a Sunday," said Mr Wells, who says this happened Kilkeel Hockey Club last year.

They had been due to play in a final on a Sunday and Mr Wells says the players "stuck together" and got the match moved to another day.

Mr Wells thinks sporting events on a Sunday are "destroying the fundamental character of Northern Ireland" but he says he will "just have to accept, that is the way society is heading".

He believes the IFA should introduce a discount to season ticket holders who will not attend Sunday matches.

“A season ticket holder entitles you to six matches but I can only attend five. It is a pity that there is no option given to just purchase a season ticket for the five, which would make it cheaper and fairer for those who cannot go to one match."

Speaking in 2015, the NI manager Michael O'Neill said that he "appreciated people's religious beliefs but that his hands, as well as those of the association, were tied".

When he was in France last year for the Euros, Mr Wells attended three out of four NI matches as the Poland game was on a Sunday.

“I did not attend the match on Sunday but as always I wished the boys in green all the best before the game."

He says that he has high hopes that the team will now progress to the World Cup in 2018 as they have been giving "marvellous performances" in recent times.

Mr Wells will next support NI in their next World Cup Qualifier bid when he travels to San Marino in September.


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