Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Irish League has given us reasons to be cheerful

Referee Hugh Carvill deserves huge credit

What a week it has been for the Irish League. My own view is that it has been a fantastic week for local football.

You may think that's a strange conclusion to draw after the sectarian chanting at Windsor Park last Tuesday night but here's my reasoning.

Twenty years ago no-one would have batted an eyelid over this behaviour in our football grounds.

Now more and more people from supporters to Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin are saying that enough is enough.

As far as I'm concerned that's real progress and well done to the genuine fans who shouted down the morons at Windsor last week.

And one man who deserves an enormous pat on the back is referee Hugh Carvill who had the courage of his convictions to make sure an announcement was made urging the fans to stop the sectarian chanting.

Carvill was the voice of reason in the middle of all the verbal abuse.

We can be all doom and gloom and negative about these issues but at least this behaviour is being challenged.

So can we kick it into touch for good?

Will the Irish FA order the next Linfield v Cliftonville game at Windsor to take place without fans?

Would both clubs be willing to swallow that short-term pain for long-term gain?

Would such a sanction get the message across to the minority of fans who are doing the chanting?

I was disappointed that Irish FA chief-executive Patrick Nelson was silent on the issue. While no-one is expecting him to have the magic answer to this conundrum, at the very least he could have condemned the chants and praised the actions of referee Carvill.

But the reality that sectarian chanting is being challenged isn't the only positive news. Chris Scannell made his return to the first team after a long injury nightmare.

There can be nothing more frustrating for a player than being injured when you long for the chance to help your team win trophies.

How refreshing it was to see him see some light at the end of his long dark tunnel.

And the good news keeps coming. Linfield legend Noel Bailie (pictured) received his MBE from the Queen in Buckingham Palace last week.

Former Blues skipper Bailie spent his entire career with the Windsor Park club, joining in 1986 and going on to make 1,013 appearances.

The Hillsborough man was joined by his father and two children in London to receive the special honour.

Noel told Linfield's website that he even met comedian Rowan Atkinson who was collecting his CBE from the Queen.

The defender won 10 league championships and eight Irish Cups with Linfield before retiring in 2011 while off the pitch he was always willing to impart the right advice to other players.

Sadly, Noel's mother passed away before he received the honour but he said at the time: "My dad and my kids are delighted and I know my mum would have been very proud too."

While the Blues legend is no longer enjoying the heat of the Irish League battle he's still an avid supporter of the game and like the rest of us he will be enjoying watching the goals flying in.

If you're bored watching some of the dross served up in England's top flight why not take in an Irish League game.

According to the excellent @NIFootballDaily Twitter account, our top flight averages 3.32 goals per game, the second highest top division rate in Europe – behind only Holland's Eredivise.

We can be negative about anything if we want to be but I'd like to raise a glass to Noel Bailie, Chris Scannell, Hugh Carvill, to all the Irish League players who keep entertaining us and to the supporters who are prepared to say that sectarian chanting is wrong.

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