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Sectarian shame in Windsor Park stands

just when we thought it had left local game, sectarianism rears its ugly head

By Graham Luney

It's Halloween and the horror of sectarianism hasn't gone away you know. Let us all sit down and recover from the shock that there are sectarian bigots still running around this country.

That's what these people are. They aren't genuine Linfield or Cliftonville fans.

They aren't fans of football – they are bigots leading sorry lives, pure and simple.

The Irish league would have a much better chance of a prosperous future if we could leave these people behind.

What chance do the clubs have of creating family friendly environments with these idiots turning up?

Everyone is talking about the County Antrim Shield semi-final between the Reds and Blues at Windsor Park on Tuesday night but, regrettably, it's not the football that is dominating the conversation.

Sectarian chanting from rival 'supporters' led to referee Hugh Carvill and his officials requesting that a message be relayed to the crowd urging them to stop the verbal abuse.

Only then did the bigoted bile evaporate into the autumn air.

The sad and depressing reality here is that football has got a problem which it must tackle.

It's not a problem made by football but it's inflicting damage on the game.

Both Linfield and Cliftonville are committed to promoting cross-community relations but these admirable efforts are being continually undermined by people masquerading as football fans.

It's not a problem other sports including Ulster Rugby or the Belfast Gaints ice hockey team needs to address.

For obvious reasons, sectarian chanting won't be erupting in gaelic grounds across the country.

Our football clubs attract support from working class communities that have suffered years of sectarian conflict and are still deeply divided.

While it is impossible to escape that reality, it never excuses this behaviour.

Anger must now be transmitted into action.

The police, officials from clubs and the Irish FA need to come together – like they have in the past to restrict crowds for health and safety reasons – to set out a plan to root out these morons once and for all.

A failure to do this will lead to the reputations of clubs, the Irish League and the IFA being badly damaged.

These 'fans' need to be caught on camera, banned from attending ALL matches in Northern Ireland, arrested and face court action for inciting hatred.

Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce has warned clubs that points deductions and stadium closures are possible but I don't believe punishing clubs is fair when it's a minority preventing the majority from following their team in the proper manner.

High profile matches between Linfield and Cliftonville could end up being all-ticket or played in front of season-ticket holders only. Again, it's the silent, well behaved majority in this country who pay the price.

Clubs have made significant progress with regard to stewarding but they could be more pro-active if they are given the necessary resources and support from the Irish FA.

Supporters of the Northern Ireland team have played a key role in driving out the bigots from Windsor Park on international nights.

But as the body responsible for the game at all levels in this country the IFA are going to have to grasp this nettle.

Irish League football has enough headaches to deal with without this nonsense.

Stadiums need redeveloped and there is even growing support to move the season to the summer months to boost attendances.

Maybe that's not such a good idea when tensions are higher during the marching season.

Imagine if that match was broadcast live on Sky Sports and a much bigger audience had heard the chanting?

Would you blame Sky bosses for giving Blues-Reds matches a by-ball in the future?

The man of the match on Tuesday night was referee Hugh Carvill.

The actions of his team should now lead to the IFA, clubs and police rolling up their sleeves and going after the bigots.

The good news is that sectarian chanting is being challenged with more vigour than ever before.

Carvill and his team have given us an opportunity we must grasp.

Our politicians continue to let us down. Football, like the rest of us, soldiers on but anyone who cares about the game will understand the need to see this cancer vanish for good.

Belfast Telegraph


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