Crusaders directors turned away by angry Linfield chiefs
Linfield 1 Crusaders 2: It may have been all back-slaps on the pitch, but there was a frosty atmosphere off it!
On a day when Linfield defender William Murphy trooped off Windsor Park for the final time – after his 639th appearance – Crusaders officials were forced to join their fans in the North Stand after being refused entry to the Directors' Box.
Angry Linfield chiefs were up in arms over the Shore Road club's stance over funding plans for the redevelopment of the international venue. Crusaders are seeking to judicially review the plans for a £25m upgrade, claiming they breach European Union competition laws.
"We didn't think we could hold out the hand of courtesy to Crusaders in such circumstances," said a Linfield spokesman. "It would have been hypocritical.
"Windsor Park is owned by Linfield Football Club – and always will be. We reckon the spirit of the game was breached by Crusaders' decision to seek a judicial review on the upgrade of the stadium."
The controversy certainly didn't take the gloss off 39 year old Murphy's farewell, although perhaps the result did.
Ironically, it was another veteran, playing his last game for the Crues, striker David Rainey who gatecrashed the occasion by thumping home a wonderful free kick, which proved to be the winner.
Michael Carvill shot the Blues into an early lead, but little Gary McCutcheon's magnificent finish levelled things seconds before the break.
Blues boss David Jeffrey admits Murphy will not be the only player to walk down the exit tunnel.
"Every player's situation is being looked at, whether they are in or out of contract," warned Jeffrey. "We've got to make a judgement on what players are capable of challenging and helping us win back the league championship.
"We need players of the stature of William Murphy. We need guys with his desire and character – people who are warriors and are prepared to stand up in a battle.
"We went into the season as champions, but we didn't even challenge. We are miles behind the top two teams in the league. It was the manner in the way we capitulated that hurt most.
Crues manager Stephen Baxter hailed the contribution of Rainey, who leaves the club after a fantastic eight years.
"We gave him a fitting tribute before the game in the dressing room," he said.
"These guys are like part of your family. David skippered the team today – he is a legend of Irish League football."