Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

Don't let hooligans ruin all-Ireland ties: Ferguson

Linfield's Billy Joe Burns deals with a smoke bomb on Monday
Linfield's Billy Joe Burns deals with a smoke bomb on Monday

Former Linfield star Glenn Ferguson believes that all-Ireland football can survive, but only if those intent on using the matches for sectarian ends are rooted out.

Ferguson scored for the Blues when they won the first Setanta Cup final back in 2005, as cross-border football made a return after being shelved in the early 1980s.

With Setanta's sponsorship about to expire and the latest episode of violence at a game occurring on Monday night when riot police clashed with Shamrock Rovers supporters during their meeting with Linfield at Windsor Park, there is widespread opinion that the competition will die.

Ferguson, however, is loathe to see that happen. Instead the Ballymena United manager wants to take the Sky Blues into an all-Ireland tournament that no longer carries sectarian baggage.

"Sadly this isn't the first time that there has been trouble at Setanta Cup matches, but it has always kept going," said Ferguson.

"Maybe harsher punishments would put a stop to the troublemakers marring the games..

"Fans are close enough to know who the trouble makers are and they can help police to root them out."

During the first half of Monday's game a section of the travelling Rovers support broke through a fence in Windsor Park's North Stand that was erected to keep them well away from any confrontation with Linfield fans.

Windsor Park's current design means that it is impossible to get from the North Stand into any other part of the ground, but with large parts of the stadium due to be rebuilt – with work starting in six months time – that will no longer be the case.

Effectively the much needed and long awaited modernisation of Windsor could play into the hands of the hooligans.

For Ferguson, however, there are more reasons to give those who run the competition the encouragement to go out and seek new sponsors so that all-Ireland football stays on the calendar for a few more years at least.

"The competition is a good idea, I would like to see it stay and I would like to be in it with Ballymena," said Ferguson.

"Every club would like to play in it because it gives you a chance to test yourself against the teams from the south, if you are in it then it means you've done well in your own league and there can be financial benefits too.

"So there are a bunch of things that it has on its side, but obviously when there is trouble then that brings negative attention that nobody wants.

"What happened on Monday night could have put potential sponsors off coming on-board."

Linfield Football Club has made no comment since the trouble during Monday night's game, although it is understood the matter was discussed at board level last night.

Immediately after the match the club's manager David Jeffrey said: "All I will say is that it was a sad night for football and, if anything, football was the loser."

Shamrock Rovers released a statement, which read: "The club is very disappointed by the behaviour of some of our fans at Windsor Park.

"We brought over 500 supporters to Belfast and the majority of them got behind the team and enjoyed watching the club progress to the semi-finals of the competition.

"Out of the over 500 fans, about 20 caused the problems that occurred; we are looking closely at what happened and will take whatever action is necessary."

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