Silverware tarnished by failure to pull down hurdles
Published 04/03/2014 | 01:30
Tonight a nation stops and holds its breath as the most important match in the history of football is upon us.
It's the much talked about, much hyped County Antrim Shield final between Linfield and Crusaders. I haven't been this excited since Nazareth won the cup.
All roads lead to Ballymena. Or rather, they should be leading to Belfast where the two clubs are based!
As you all know, it's a long story!
The bottom line here is the fans have been let down. They have been shortchanged and have to travel to the Ballymena Showgrounds for an all-ticketed fixture.
Linfield objected to the original final at The Oval being all-ticket so Glentoran pulled the plug on the December 4 fixture, saying "ticketing was necessary to avoid any risks to our club's Safety Certificate and also to avoid unnecessary high costs for additional stewarding."
The final was then moved to Warden Street where Ballymena Borough Council insisted on tickets being issued... after an announcement was made that a cash gate would apply.
End result – a smaller crowd.
You could refer to it as typical Irish League behaviour – messing around with a showpiece final until it loses its shine.
Linfield were unhappy with Glentoran. Crusaders were unhappy with Linfield and then Linfield were unhappy with Ballymena Borough Council.
The supporters aren't exactly dancing in the streets either!
The Blues feel they have taken some unfair flak, saying: "This club has been vilified by some in the media and by supporters of other clubs for our principled stance on this matter. There is widespread acceptance in our local domestic game that ticketing arrangements contribute to diminishing spectator numbers and we would have thought that the wider football family would have supported us on our stance."
It will be interesting to see exactly how many fans turn up tonight, but it's fair to conclude the rush for tickets isn't quite up there with a Garth Brooks concert.
That's a huge shame. This controversy is not what this much maligned tournament needs.
I wouldn't be surprised if there were some in the County Antrim FA wondering whether it's worth the hassle keeping the Shield going.
As fixture lists become congested, it's often named as the competition fans are willing to boot into touch.
But it's been with us for over 100 years and the bigger picture is that our clubs are only going for four trophies a season and only a few harbour league title ambitions.
I'm disregarding the Setanta Cup in this. Although Linfield and Crusaders have won it before there now appears to be more chance of me auditioning for Britain's Got Talent with a dancing dog than one of our sides triumphing again!
Our top two clubs didn't even bother to enter it this season and it's only high up in a club's priority list if they have nothing else to fight for.
But what is football about? It's about getting into finals and winning trophies. A player's career is short and when he retires will he be reflecting on the money he has earned or the medals he has won?
Ballymena United beat Linfield after a penalty shootout in November, 2012 and if you look at the photographs from that night you will see what it meant to the players.
As for tonight's decider, David Jeffrey will take charge of Linfield for the last time in a major final and I believe his troops will blast him level with Roy Coyle on the trophy count – 31 each.
But after the disgraceful events leading up to the final – regardless of who triumphs, football will not be the winner.