Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Sunday game kicks off Irish League’s new era

Bigger crowds at first senior football tie on Sabbath

Michael Halliday (left) with Gary Hamilton

A new era dawned for football yesterday as the first ever Irish League Sunday fixture kicked off.

East Belfast side Glentoran beat Bangor 1-0 in a match where there was more action off the pitch than on it.

A group of between 20 and 30 protesters from the Free Presbyterian Church gathered outside the Oval to voice their opposition at the game being played on the Sabbath.

Despite the protest, however, the turnout was thought to be bigger than usual.

Glentoran’s Gary Hamilton also made the history books after he scored the game’s only goal.

Both clubs agreed to the move after the waterlogged pitch was deemed unplayable following Saturday’s heavy rain.

An amendment was made to Irish Football Association rules last year to allow Sunday games if both clubs agree.

Glentoran chairman Aubry Ralph said the match went off “seamlessly”.

“We already played on a Sunday in 1967 when we toured the US as the Detroit Cougars so we had already broken the mould. But this was the first time here,” he said.

“To be truthful it was just another day to me. I didn’t really get the big hang-up. It went off and we got the three points which was the most important thing to me.

“It went quite seamlessly. We had a few Sabbath day protesters outside but they didn’t really cause any hassle.

“They arrived first they were on the road and our security people asked them to move onto the footpath which they did willingly and they sang a few songs coming close to the kick-off. But other than that they didn’t present any major problems for anyone.

“We have one Christian player on our team (Michael Halliday) and there were two on the Bangor team. When the IFA passed this regulation it was agreed that no player or official would be compelled to play if they didn’t want to. I don’t know about the Bangor players but certainly Michael was our player, the manager had a word with him and Michael was happy enough to play.”

Official statistics have yet to be released but early estimates suggest bigger crowds than usual.

Added Mr Ralph: “I don’t have the official figures but certainly it was up on a comparable game on a Saturday.

“Because I don’t have the official figures I don’t know exactly how much it was up, but it was up.

“We used today to stop any more fixture congestion. Already we are two games down and not to play would have put us three behind fairly early on in the season.

“We couldn’t see a time where we could play the game before November and that’s not realistic in terms of getting some sort of momentum going and also from a cash flow perspective it’s not terribly good for us.”

Meanwhile striker Halliday said he had given the decision to play a lot of thought.

“It was a difficult call because I'd rather not play on a Sunday,” he said. “But as a one-off, I'm prepared to play, partly because Glentoran are my employers and I'm under contract.”

Given the success of yesterday it is likely that Sunday fixtures will become more frequent.

Added Halliday: “Hopefully, it will never come to that stage where Glentoran are playing their games on a regular basis on Sundays. “I know the reasons why this is a one-off. But I'd certainly have to consider, if it became an every Sunday thing, whether or not to play.”

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