As we look forward to tonight’s friendly international against Israel and next month’s huge World Cup double header against Poland and Slovakia, I thought it would be timely to look back on the events which surrounded the wonderful victory against the Poles here in Belfast.
On the pitch, Northern Ireland produced an energetic and confident performance to collect a deserved but hard-earned win against one of Group Three’s front-runners. Again, the players showed why no team looks forward to a visit to Windsor Park, and there’s little doubt that Artur Boruc will want to forget his contribution to Northern Ireland’s 3-2 victory.
On a more serious note, the violence on the streets around Windsor Park was frightening, with Polish thugs running amok, attacking property, Northern Ireland fans and even one another. The footage and real-life experience were something that belonged in the 1970s and 80s and had no place in the environment we have proudly built up around Northern Ireland matches.
We should remember, though, that it was a very small minority of organised, hard-core Polish hooligans who caused mayhem, just as they have done in many of the other countries. The majority of the Polish support came to the game to support their team and behave themselves.
A small number of Northern Ireland fans were involved in the clashes, many of them drawn into hand-to-hand fighting having found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. We also saw one of the referee’s assistants struck with a coin during play, the perpetrator having since been brought to book and hopefully having learned his lesson.
This led some within the media to pass immediate judgment on Northern Ireland supporters as a whole, with allegations that fans threw petrol bombs at the police and attacked Polish residents’ homes. We had one well-known local broadcaster tell his national audience that Northern Ireland should have the win taken from them and the points awarded to Poland!
Uninformed and cheap opinion, designed to grab the attention and an audience, can undermine the good work, the difficult work, which has been carried out in changing people’s perceptions of Northern Ireland games and those who attend them.
As the spokesman for the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters’ Clubs, I am often asked for my opinion on football supporters’ issues; sometimes those issues are emotive and evoke passionate views from fans. When I make a public comment, I realise that with that comes responsibility and that my words may influence others, even if only in the way they perceive my fellow fans and I. Perhaps that is a path one or two ‘commentators’ and ‘broadcasters’ should follow.