Nowhere to go: Cliftonville fans already inside Seaview cast an eye over events unfolding on the Shore RoadTHOUGH you can never rule anything out in the unpredictable world of the north Belfast derby, nobody could have foreseen that fans of both clubs would be singing from the same hymn sheet on Saturday evening.
Instead of disputing rash tackles, contentious offsides and the all-important issue of local bragging rights, Crusaders and Cliftonville supporters were instead united in their condemnation of the rent-a-mob who prevented the biggest fixture of the Danske Bank Premiership season from going ahead.
The residents of Skegoneill Avenue — a nearby throughfare for Reds fans heading to Seaview — were content with security arrangements surrounding the game and looked on with shock as the flag-protest bandwagon poked its nose into sport, causing a stand-off that had the potential to escalate were it not for, to quote a PSNI officer at the scene, the “impeccable behaviour” of both sets of supporters.
Crusaders chairman Stephen Bell had, in an attempt to reduce the amount of people walking to the game, arranged for two buses to transport those Reds fans who wished to avail of the service but, as one Crues supporter explained: “That wouldn’t have made any difference.
“The flag protestors don’t have a legitimate reason for being here. They say they’re supporting the
residents, but the residents are disgusted with them.
“They say they only want Cliftonville fans bussed in, but then they blocked the turnstiles. How would fans on the buses have got into the ground?”
A Cliftonville fan said: “A carload of us had parked down near Grove swimming baths but were prevented from getting near the ground because the police were concerned about a group of protestors towards the turnstiles.
“They asked us to wait at the bottom of Skegoneill Avenue until the rest of our supporters had walked down, so that we could all head to Seaview as one group.
“A crowd of protestors actually ran towards us at one point, clearly hoping to spark a reaction, and we even had shoes chucked in our direction.
“In all, we were stood there for over an hour while this protest got out of hand and why the likes of (Ulster People’s Forum spokeman) Willie Frazer were anywhere near the place is ridiculous.”
A Crusaders supporter, who was already inside the ground when the decision was taken to postpone the match, said: “It’s a sad day when football can be dictated to by people like this.
“There were Crusaders and Cliftonville fans standing together in the ground — including Carl Frampton and Paddy Barnes — and we all walked out alongside one another, so there’s no problem between us or between the clubs.”
Another Reds fan, stranded on Skegoneill, commented: “These protestors will have you believe they’re standing in solidarity with the residents of Skegoneill, so I’d like to ask why they were on the Shore Road?
“Skegoneill residents have made it clear they had no problems with us and, in fact, one of them even offered me a lift back home.
“I think we should also pay tribute to the Crusaders supporters who tried to walk to the match alongside Cliftonville fans. They were prevented from getting up the road and had to deal with some absolutely vile abuse from these protestors.
“One Crues supporter actually apologised for what was going on — he’d no need to say sorry, it’s not his or Crusaders’ fault.”