10/05/2011

'Travel Solution' Rejected By NI Soccer Fans

Hundreds of NI soccer fans attended a packed meeting in south Belfast last night to voice criticism for what they said is "overcharging" for travel to Dublin for this month's Nations Cup game.

Under the guise of preventing a repeat of a very isolated incident of unruly behaviour at the Scotland match in February, the Irish Football Association (IFA) said that fans must only travel on its coaches - using a single travel firm - Travel Solutions.

But angry fans voted to boycott the matches instead with the crowded meeting at Newforge vowing to give next week's match a 'by-ball' and not attend the Republic match in Dublin.

A statement issued afterwards said: "The Amalgamation of Official NI Supporters Clubs (AONISC) has criticised the prices fans are being asked to pay in order to attend the Carling Cup of Nations games against the Republic of Ireland and Wales in Dublin later this month and has announced that it won't be offering its services for the matches.

"Whilst we recognise that there is a need for some restrictions to be put in place to ensure that the good reputation of Northern Ireland fans is protected, we are totally opposed to the costs that fans are being asked to pay.

"We find it difficult to accept that the cost of putting in place the necessary stewarding and arrangements for travelling fans could reach a figure potentially in excess of £1,100 per coach, without considerable profiteering.

"The AONISC is unable to endorse the costs that fans are being asked to meet," said a spokesman.

Adding their own solution, the AONISC said they has already advised the IFA in December that tickets for the Scotland game should be sold only to existing 'block bookers' and requested on a number of occasions that a 'fanzone' be provided for travelling fans.
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"Regrettably, our input was overlooked and as a consequence, the image of our fans was damaged by the actions of a small minority," said the statement.

Things have now escalated and, with these issues in mind, the AONISC has taken a decision that it will not provide services for the remaining Dublin games in terms of the stewarding of buses or assisting with the 'policing' of fans.

"We recommend to our members that they should not attend the games against the Irish Republic and Wales."

The Northern Ireland fan said a small group of people out of five or six thousand supporters "have destroyed it for us, but the responsibility for the price of the bus lies with the IFA," the spokesman continued.

"We won't go, whether it be the IFA or their travel partner Travel Solutions, we are not going to let anybody rip us off," he said.

But, the IFA said the decision to link match tickets to transport was taken in consultation with the Football Association of Ireland, PSNI and Gardaí.

Bad behaviour would "not be tolerated by the Gardaí and/or stadium stewards" said a statement and any fans causing trouble would lose their block booking tickets for future Northern Ireland home matches.

Last night's meeting followed earlier debate on the issue with one fan, John Larmour from Albert Foundry NI Supporters Club telling BBC NI last week that the proposed £30 per seat on a coach in addition to the £27 for a match ticket was "ridiculous".

Mr Larmour said fans could have arranged transport for a third of the cost.

"They will not let us put our own buses on and they're charging the ridiculous price of £30 to go to Dublin on the bus alone and its £27 for a ticket," he said.

"On the Scotland game we put a bus on for £490 and we put 53 people on it."

"I can see that they want to stop a few Northern Ireland supporters and keep them under control, but it doesn't give them the right to rip us off," he said.

(BMcC/GK)

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