Angry Portadown football fans have claimed they were subjected to “Third World conditions” during Saturday’s Cup Final at the Oval in East Belfast.
Supporters have criticised what they term the “disregard for health and safety”, the “insulting toilet facilities”, “a downright untidy and unacceptable changing room for our players” and the “generally poor” accommodation for the fans.
Lifelong supporter Cardwell McClure said, “It was disgusting for any football organisation to subject fans to the likes of this. About 2,500 Ports fans were in the ‘away’ seated stand, with just an eight-foot wide exit at one end.
“It was a safety hazard. At half-time, I went to the toilet and it took several minutes to squeeze my way out of the stand, with two-way traffic and stewards getting in the way. And the toilet arrangements were a shame and disgrace.
“There were a few portaloos, but the main communal male toilets were out in the open. Men were having to urinate in public view, and women had to walk past that spectacle to get to their portaloos. And, en route, we had to negotiate a crumbling stairway. It was incredible.
“In the rain, the steps were dirty and slippery. If there had been an emergency, there would have been serious safety concerns.”
This was confirmed by Deirdre Ramsey, mother of Ports substitute defender Chris Ramsey. She said, “Three generations of our family was there, including Chris’s partner Aine and their year-old daughter Faidh. It was scary trying to squeeze out of the stand, and the toilets were disgusting.
“Not only did we have to walk past the men, but the portaloos were at an angle. It’s a guaranteed way to dissuade fans, for I won’t be back at the Oval under any circumstances.”
Long-term fan Ernie Thornton described the scenario as “a shambles”. He added, “The rain, of course, didn’t help. But some men were so embarrassed at the toilet facilities that they went to a semi-flooded area – into a quiet corner – rather than the awful facilities.
“Flares were being let off during the match, and you wonder how they got past security. The old stand at Shamrock Park has been closed due to health and safety considerations, but it’s no worse than what we had to face on Saturday. The IFA obviously took its eye off the ball – everything seems geared to the international match and Windsor Park. As I recall a leading official recently said that was their only focus. That, sadly, was obvious at the Oval on Saturday.”
Former Portadown Times football journalist Brian Courtney said, “With Windsor Park being unavailable, it was totally unfair that the IFA should transfer the game to Glentoran’s home stadium in the first place. That gave them an unfair advantage from the start.” (Glentoran won 1-0 in controversial circumstances).
He added, “The game should have been played at Kingspan (Ravenhill) rugby ground with its vastly superior facilities, and which could have accommodated far more fans. Neither set of fans wanted it at the Oval, but my information is that the IFA didn’t even inquire about Kingspan for what is supposed to be Northern Ireland’s annual soccer showpiece.”
A spokesman for the Ulster Branch of the Irish Rugby Football Union confirmed that the IFA has asked if Kingspan would be available for the NI European qualifier with Romania on June 13 in the event of Windsor Park unavailable, following the demolition of the West Stand.
“In the event, the match is being played at Windsor,” the spokesman added. “But the Cup Final wasn’t mentioned in our discussions.”
Trevor Clydesdale, Portadown’s press officer, said that the club had protested against the venue, “but the IFA wouldn’t listen. In fact, the state of the dressing room that met our players left a lot to be desired. It was a poor show all around.”
The Portadown Times telephoned the IFA several times and sent an email over the fans’ complaints. But by deadline last night, they had not responded.