Northern Ireland

IFA should fight Uefa Sunday game decision, says former footballer

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Media captionStuart Elliott said the IFA should fight the Sunday fixture decision

A former international footballer, who is now a pastor, has said the Irish Football Association should challenge a decision that NI play a home game on a Sunday for the first time.

Northern Ireland are due to play Finland at Windsor Park, Belfast, on 29 March 2015.

The fixture is part of the qualifiers for the 2016 European championship.

Stuart Elliott, who played 39 times for NI, said: "I think they [the IFA] should be fighting it."

But IFA president Jim Shaw said the association, along with 53 other nations, had signed an agreement with European football's governing body.

He told BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster: "We did make the point at the beginning but it is a contract we have signed with Uefa. There is no way they are going to deviate.

"It's equal for all 54 countries across Europe, and that's the way the agreement they have negotiated was set up.

"We didn't have a choice unfortunately. We are either in the club or we're not in the club. It's as simple as that at this stage.

"And it's absolutely important from a football perspective that Northern Ireland still plays in those competitions."

The fixtures were drawn by computer after the draw for Euro 2016 was made in France on Sunday.

'Evangelical country'

Northern Ireland start and finish their qualifying campaign with away Sunday fixtures, against Hungary, on 7 September 2014, and Finland, on 11 October 2015.

Mr Elliott said: "We have always had a strong tradition in Northern Ireland as a great evangelical country, so I would not be a supporter of playing football on a Sunday here, or having the fixtures on a Sunday.

"I think they [the IFA] should say, listen, we are a strong Christian country here, and we certainly should be having a look at it.

"I wouldn't be an advocate of Sunday football but there were some times when I was playing in England that I had to play a couple of Sunday fixtures because it was compulsory. I had to fulfil my contract with my clubs.

"I wouldn't advocate supporters going to watch it if they had their own free will to do so on a Sunday, I would uphold the Sabbath."

For six decades, no Sunday football was allowed in Northern Ireland for religious reasons.

But, in November 2007, the Irish FA voted to scrap the ban, although only a couple of senior football clubs have opted to play games on the Sabbath since.

The owners of Windsor Park - Linfield - have also previously made clear their opposition to playing games on a Sunday.

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