Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Reds fans boycott derby

Crusaders' Seaview stadium was surreally quiet on Monday night for their north Belfast derby, as Cliftonville fans boycotted the fixture in protest at restricted ticket allocation.

The fixture was originally scheduled for February but was postponed due to loyalist Union flag protesters gathering outside the ground, preventing Cliftonville supporters from entering the stadium.

The Reds fans, who were crowned league champions last week in a dramatic 3-2 win against Linfield, boycotted the fixture after being offered a restricted allocation of just 200 tickets.

A handful of people and a small police presence gathered outside Seaview before Monday night's kick-off, with several displaying placards in protest at alleged vandalism by Cliftonville fans walking to matches in the past.

Residents of Skegoneill Avenue released a statement after the match, saying: "Firstly we would like to make it clear that we are not flag protesters, instead we are a collective group of concerned residents who have been affected by the actions of a small amount of Cliftonville fans in recent years.

"We are glad that tonight we did not face such intimidation as a result of our concerns being raised with both clubs and the PSNI and an agreement being made about the arrangements for fans going to the match. Tonight it is clear that football was victorious, we as residents did not have to face any sectarian abuse and we were able to live free from harassment.

"This is all we request, and we would like to take the opportunity to appeal to Cliftonville fans to travel by bus to and from the match. This will ensure that we as residents do not suffer from intimidation and vandalism, and allows football supporters to have quick and convenient access to the match."

Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin said the atmosphere at the game was "surreal, like a pre-season friendly".

He added: "Hopefully this will put it to bed and next season we can go back to normal, the two best teams playing in front of a big crowd.

"It's an issue but it doesn't need to be an issue and I hope it can be addressed. There are no issues between the clubs and even the fans.

People are saying the league is dying on its feet and it needs all the support it can get. There could have been a healthy crowd tonight and Crusaders should have got that. Supporters just want to watch football."

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