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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 January 2006, 14:16 GMT
Wells wants backing for Maze plan
IFA chief executive Howard Wells
Wells says a new stadium would attract more families to games
Irish Football Association chief executive Howard Wells has urged his organisation's officials to back the plan for a new stadium at the Maze.

The IFA executive will discuss the Maze issue at a crucial meeting on Thursday.

Wells told BBC Northern Ireland's Season Ticket that the members of the executive should respond "positively" to the government's Maze proposal.

"This is just a step in principle on whether we move forward on not," Wells told the BBC NI programme.

The football, rugby and GAA governing bodies all must give their backing for the project to go ahead and the government requires agreement in principle before the end of this month.

Sports Minister David Hanson has repeatedly said that there is "no plan B" in terms of the stadium proposal and that if the sporting bodies fail to sign up to the Maze venue, the plan will be shelved.

The government has effectively put a gun to the head of the IFA
NI supporters spokesman Gary McAllister

Wells acknowledged the widespread misgivings among Northern Ireland football supporters about the location and size of the proposed new stadium.

"We have to look at the opinions of the Belfast supporters groups but we also have to look at the opinions of fans all over the province and also the views of clubs and our divisional representations."

Gary McAllister, the chairman of the amalgamation of Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs, denied that opposition to the Maze plan was confined to a "Belfast clique".

"We have 44 clubs throughout Northern Ireland and some of the most ardent and vocal opposition to the plan to go to the Maze comes from rural areas," said Mr McAllister, who has urged the IFA to reject the government plan.

The supporters representive claimed that the government has put the IFA in a "very unfair position".

"The government has effectively put a gun to the head of the IFA and told them that it's the Maze or nothing."

The IFA chief executive rejected this suggestion and said that the government are looking for an "in principle agreement".

The marketing opportunity around this is massive
IFA chief executive Howard Wells

"This is just a step forward in terms of the jigsaw in getting better facilities all-round for the game of which a new stadium is a part.

"Whether it is at the Maze or not is an issue for debate and I can understand the views of those who want to have it in the city centre."

Wells said that the building of new multi-sport stadium wouldn't necessarily mean the IFA abandoning plans to build a smaller stadium as part of a new centre of excellence for football.

The site of the Danny Blanchflower junior international stadium at Sydenham is one of three possible venues being looked at by the IFA for the centre of excellence.

"In terms of the Blanchflower site, the numbers can be whatever we want to encourage them to be."

Wells added that new facilities would help to attract "more women and families" to Northern Ireland games.

"Also, if we are to look seriously at attracting say, a European Cup final, in either men's or women's football, we would have to have a stadium of 40,000. The marketing opportunity around this is massive."

IFA to discuss Maze stadium plan
16 Jan 06 |  Northern Ireland
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21 Dec 05 |  Northern Ireland
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18 Dec 05 |  Northern Ireland
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16 Nov 05 |  Northern Ireland
Bigger stadium is planned for NI
20 Sep 05 |  Northern Ireland

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