Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Time we started focusing on action again

Crusaders' Matthew Snoddy tussles with Ciaran Caldwell

Christmas will soon be upon us and I hope when Santa Claus breaks into your house he will leave the pressies you wanted.

I know you are all keen to buy me something so I will insist that all I want for Christmas is a flag. Everyone else has one so I want one too.

Whisper it quietly, but I hear Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin will be getting a Linfield onesie while a signed photograph of Kevin Braniff is destined for Ronnie McFall's household.

And let's hope Jimmy Callacher wasn't looking forward to the Glentoran Christmas party – I can't see the Glens board showering him with gifts.

Linfield players must be having a whip-round to buy David Jeffrey a karaoke machine.

Joking aside, at least we can all get excited about the Boxing Day fixtures again.

Should the Irish League season ever switch to the summer months we would certainly miss these Christmas crackers and the vital funds they generate for clubs.

These holiday fixtures attract big attendances looking for quality entertainment and we all hope the players can deliver.

But we also hope the matches pass off without any unsavoury scenes in or around the grounds.

These concerns are very real on the Shore Road where Crusaders will entertain neighbours Cliftonville.

When the sides met at Seaview back in April, the away section of the ground was virtually deserted as Reds fans refused to attend over ticketing restrictions imposed upon them in the aftermath.

On that occasion, a protest outside the ground prevented Cliftonville fans from gaining access to the stadium and one of the biggest matches of the season was postponed.

It was one of the most depressing and disheartening days I can remember in the three decades I have been watching Irish League football.

The north-Belfast derby at Seaview remains one of the biggest fixtures in domestic football and everyone must strive to keep it alive.

Not everything in the Irish League garden is rosy and I'll criticise when I feel criticism is warranted, but there are also occasions when clubs get it right.

Crusaders and Cliftonville have had to work together to make sure that those who care little about this fixture don't succeed in disrupting it.

Some local residents have complained about the behaviour of Cliftonville fans walking to Seaview along Skegoneill Avenue.

I have no knowledge of this as I don't live in the area, but it has become clear that best way for Reds supporters to access Seaview is by using cars and buses.

Cliftonville members acknowledged this reality in the statement they issued last week – a common sense approach which should be welcomed by everyone.

Reds fans will require tickets for the fixture and have been asked to make arrangements to arrive at Seaview by car or supporters club buses while Crusaders have made arrangements for additional parking near the ground.

A sense of normality needs to return to the derby game at Seaview and that's why it's important that the Solitude faithful turn up in numbers.

Both clubs sets of supporters need to stay focused on the bigger picture and do whatever it takes to defeat those with other agendas.

After all, this is merely a sporting occasion – it's just a football match.

As someone who was brought up in north-Belfast, I take heart from the fact both clubs are not only performing with pride on the pitch but are also committed to promoting community relations.

Both clubs and their supporters simply want normal service to resume, and that's my Christmas wish too.

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