Football family united against protesters
Irish League football endured one of its darkest days on Saturday but out of the madness that happened at Seaview should emerge an even greater determination within the domestic game to keep this place on the rocky path to becoming a civilised country.
Many people like to take a cheap shot at local football but, alongside the cherished achievements of sporting heroes this small country has produced, it has kept us sane during many troubled times.
The sad reality is that even though football has and will continue to bring people of different backgrounds together, there are others who will use it as a platform to achieve their own goals and feel no shame in doing so.
Title chasers Crusaders and Cliftonville had very different goals of their own as they prepared for the Premiership clash at Seaview.
But the game never kicked off and the end result is that the two clubs have never been closer — united in the resolve for community relations to improve in the area which bears the deepest scars from our sectarian conflict.
Hundreds of Reds fans were prevented from walking to the stadium by police as a crowd of loyalist protestors gathered outside the ground.
Supporters’ security could not be guaranteed and the police, in consultation with both clubs, called the game off at 3.10pm.
But as the anger, frustration and condemnation fades, there are now fresh fears surrounding this fixture and whether supporters will lose out. Crusaders have suffered a £15,000 loss — that’s money that could have been invested in more cross-community coaching in the area.
But now it seems inevitable the police will become more involved in the planning of this fixture. Will kick-off times alter? Will Cliftonville now be told all their supporters must be bussed from Solitude to Seaview?
Both clubs enjoy a healthy working relationship but who can legislate for a crowd of protestors gathering outside the ground to cause maximum disruption?
Fifa vice-president and former Cliftonville chairman Jim Boyce shook his head in disbelief, like everyone else.
“This is absolutely nothing to do with football or the supporters of both clubs,” said Boyce.
“I know for a fact that all the officials of the two clubs have acted tirelessly to promote community relations and those relations couldn’t be better between the two clubs in north Belfast.
“Here we had a country where people were coming back to after 30 years of the most horrendous problems.
“When I’m abroad people are talking to me about this situation and, quite honestly, would you want to come and spend a weekend in Northern Ireland when you see these scenes?”
The frustration and depression ran deep on Saturday but it will only succeed in speeding up the excellent cross-community work that both north Belfast clubs are committed to.
No-one within football is to blame for the mess.
Irish League football is doing its bit to bring communities together — if only others followed that example.
Former Crusaders player and Reds boss Liam Beckett was also spot on when he said: “I’m deeply saddened. The game that I love has been tarnished.
“A game of football is never going to affect someone’s culture or beliefs.
“Football has cleaned up its act and both Crusaders and Cliftonville have a great relationship.
“We want to discuss football, not politics.”
There will be further discussions at Crusaders’ EGM tonight exploring how both clubs can play their part in ensuring future north Belfast derbies at Seaview pass off without incident.
Crusaders chairman Stephen Bell urged the football family to “hold together in sport at this difficult time”.
That football family has now never been more united.