The field of dreams – and the stands around it
Northern Ireland’s national stadium, owned and groundshared by Linfield, Windsor Park was the scene of wild celebrations after Michael O’Neill’s men qualified for Euro 2016 with a 3-1 win over Greece in October 2015.
This momentous event should have coincided with the conclusion of the ground’s extensive, £35-million redevelopment. But construction of a 18,000-capacity all-seater ground was stalled when the West Stand had to be demolished after a fault was discovered. It now should be ready for a World Cup qualifier against San Marino in October 2016.
The project was being carried out stand by stand, so the national team could use the ground in the meantime. Northern Ireland only had one home match scheduled for the autumn of 2014, in October against the Faroes, when the North and West Stands were open. Linfield used Mourneview Park, Lurgan, home of Glenavon, for their home ties in the Europa League, moving back to Windsor Park in mid September.
The famous South Stand was demolished in July 2014. When opened in 1909, four years after Linfield bought the land here and moved in, it was known as the Grandstand. Before its recent demolition, it owed its appearance, as did the rest of the stadium, to legendary pre-war stadium architect Archibald Leitch.
The Kop (or Alex Russell) Stand is the home end behind the west goal, while away fans are accommodated in the upper tier of the North Stand. With a bar and press facilities in place, a museum is scheduled for the Railway, or East, Stand.
Despite the fact that Linfield have played here ever since the very first match in 1905, perhaps there is an argument that a smaller ground would suit their modest needs, with average gates around 3,000. For most domestic fixtures, both sets of fans use the South Stand, the other three closed off and the game taking place in an echoing stadium.
Going to the ground – tips and timings
The nearest transport stop is Adelaide station. Walk back towards town for 5min until you come to the footbridge across to the stadium. Referred to as ‘Windsor, Adelaide Train Station’ on the Translink website, it is 15mins direct from Belfast Central, trains running every 30mins.
Alternatively, Metrobus 9A, 9B and 9C run from Donegall Square East in town to Windsor Avenue – again, a 15min journey. Ulsterbus 523 runs from Donegall Square North. If you sit on the right-hand side of the bus, you should see the stadium 2-3mins after Belfast City Hospital.
Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much
Where to Drink
Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors
While the stadium bar overlooking the pitch is part of the revamp, there are no pubs in the immediate vicinity to Windsor Park. Convenient though without any football allegiance, Cuckoo (149 Lisburn Road) is a student-friendly spot with craft beers and DJ nights at weekends. Others congregate at the Botanic Inn on Malone Road, a huge sports bar complex, though it’s a good 15min walk to the ground.
Some Northern Ireland fans use the Royal Bar (corner Sandy Row/Donegall Road), halfway between Botanic and City Hospital stations, as a pre-match spot. Sandy Row is where Linfield were formed by mill workers in 1886.