Arrests after violent clashes mar Ballymena v Coleraine cup match
Supporters of one of Northern Ireland's biggest football clubs have condemned the actions of "rogue elements" after violent clashes marred the aftermath of a derby match.
Police made arrests when disturbances erupted following a cup game on Wednesday night between Ballymena United and Coleraine.
Two arrests were made and a PSNI chief said more could follow. There were reports from eye-witnesses of "hand-to-hand fighting" between supporters following the game at at the Ballymena Showgrounds.
While the vast majority of fans of both teams do not cause trouble the fixture has a history of a small element of fans creating mischief.
Ballymena United's official fan clubs have come together and released a joint statement condemning the trouble.
Police said the arrests were made for disorderly behaviour in the Warden Street area near the Showgrounds at 10pm on Wednesday.
The arrests followed sporadic incidents involving people who had earlier attended the Ballymena and Coleraine football match.
Superintendent Ryan Henderson said: “No major injuries were reported as a result of the incidents but local residents were disturbed and concerned as the trouble unfolded in their area.
“Officers remained in the area for around an hour to allow for supporters to disperse and provide reassurance for those residents.
“The two men who were arrested are aged 19 and 20. They have been dealt with by way of discretionary disposal. Officers are working to identify other people who may have been involved in the fighting.
Mr Henderson added: “Clearly these types of incidents are unsavoury, cause concern and annoyance for local residents and have nothing to do with genuine football supporters. Other arrests may follow in the coming days and weeks.”
The PSNI Ballymena Facebook site said the arrests followed "sporadic fighting following the Ballymena v Coleraine match at the Showgrounds."
The site added: "Local people were understandably concerned at the fighting on their doorstep and angry at the disruption it caused. Officers remained in the Warden St area until supporters had all dispersed and to give reassurance to residents.
"Those involved in the trouble last night are not genuine football supporters. They are anti social criminals. The annoyance and concern caused to residents last night is unacceptable."
One eye-witness claimed it was "the worst trouble" at a derby match in some time.
Police, on foot and in vehicles with blue flashing lights on, surrounded an estimated 100 Coleraine supporters and escorted them through the streets of Ballymena including along Fountain Place, North Road and Galgorm Road to Ballymena Train Station after the match.
Other police officers separated rival fans inside a multi-storey carpark at Fairhill shopping centre near the ground. And police vehicles attempted to block Bridge Street near Ballymena Town Hall to keep fans apart.
One eye-witness said: "The Coleraine fans should be bussed straight to the ground. The Coleraine fans should be bussed in and out because it is costing a fortune to police this and at every match between the two teams there is always fear among traders and local people that trouble will start."
On social media, genuine fans of both teams condemned the trouble saying the hooligans are giving both clubs "a bad name".
Fans said the situation could be improved if the home fans were kept back for a period to allow the Coleraine supporters to disperse and also have separate parking for supporters.
Coleraine won the match 2-1 knocking Ballymena United out of the JBE League Cup. The fixtures are not normally played at night.
On previous encounters, premises had been damaged including one bar having windows smashed. In recent years several people have appeared in court charged with offences arising from trouble.
On Thursday, a statement from Ballymena's supporters clubs said they were "disgusted" at the disorder and added: "Whilst our club is not answerable for the actions of the opposition following, it is now obvious that rogue elements have attached themselves to BUFC and have become intent on engaging in behaviour which is unacceptable and detrimental to the reputations of us all.
"No innocent supporter should have to run the gauntlet of physical violence while exiting a football ground under a hail of bottles and stones - no matter which direction they may come from.
"As supporters, we have a duty to each other to represent our club in the most favourable light possible and scenes like those last night fall far short of the mark. They fall short too, in terms of the respect we are obliged to show the residents of Warden Street and the wider community on whom the club rely for support. "Most seriously of all, we need to bear the safety of our fellow fans in mind and ensure that the next generation of Sky Blue fans aren't dissuaded from following in our footsteps by the anti-social actions of the minority.
"Let us be clear that those individuals who attend any match intent on trouble are not welcome among us and we say simply, not in our name. United we stand."