Belfast Telegraph

Sabbath ban now mainly confined to history books

By Steven Alexander

Northern Ireland's 'never on a Sunday' reputation is now largely confined to history books.

Swings in public parks have been untied on the Lord's Day since the late 1960s in unionist-controlled council areas, and Sunday is an important day for many high street traders.

However, the idea that Sunday should be kept 'special' has raised its head many times since.

In the 1982 World Cup in Spain, Glentoran winger Johnny Jameson refused to put himself forward for selection against France because he was a born-again Christian and the match was on a Sunday.

In 2004, the then DUP leader Ian Paisley led a protest outside Ravenhill as Ulster thrashed Leicester on a Sunday.

In 2011, Sunday drinks licensing laws meant pubs and clubs could not legally host after-show parties for MTV's European Music Awards, and Free Presbyterians still oppose holding the Belfast Marathon on a Sunday.

Northern Ireland's biggest annual sporting event, the North West 200, also now has the flexibility to stage motorcycle road races on a Sunday if required.

Until June 2008, the Irish Football Association banned its clubs from playing on a Sunday. .

That September, the first Sunday game was held in east Belfast, Glentoran against Bangor.

Fans arriving at the Oval were met by a 50-strong crowd of protesting Sabbatarians, including Free Presbyterian minister Rev David McIlveen (below).

Linfield had a club rule forbidding matches at Windsor Park on Sundays. As this could have affected Northern Ireland's home internationals, 'Article 24' was changed to only apply to Linfield's club games.

Uefa decided dates should be randomly selected last year. So when last year's draw was made, there was nothing to stop this Sunday's game with Finland going ahead.

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