Windsor madness could kill cross-border games
Linfield 1 Shamrock Rovers 3 (Rovers win 7-2 on aggregate)
The kind of hate-filled crowd trouble that led to a 25-year hiatus in all-Ireland football reared its ugly head again at Windsor Park on Monday night – and could well hasten the end of such competitions.
Sectarian tensions during some of the worst days of the Troubles led to the abandonment of the old Tyler Cup in 1980 and the Setanta Sports Cup is now heading the same way. What other outcome could there be, after this?
The Irish sports broadcasters had already decided not to renew their sponsorship after eight years and the appetite for a cross-border competition has been on the wane for some time.
Still, when the draw for the last eight pitted Linfield and Shamrock Rovers – the biggest clubs in the north and south – together for a first meeting in 29 years there was an expectation that there could be great entertainment on the pitch and that new life could be breathed into a tournament that started with great razzmatazz – and a Linfield victory – in 2005.
There were, however, also concerns over what may happen off the pitch. Unfortunately the former failed to materialise, while fears over the latter were realised.
Linfield lost 3-1 at Windsor Park last night, which meant failure in their mission impossible, having lost the first leg of the quarter-final tie 4-1 in Dublin last week.
There was a confrontation between Linfield supporters and Gardai at the end of the game in Tallaght, when they were kept behind to allow home fans to clear the local area.
The tension steadily grew until Shamrock Rovers fans broke through a temporary fence, used as a cordon that was meant to keep them pressed in the top corner of the North Stand, at the railway end, well away from the Blues fans who were housed in the Kop Stand.
A flare was thrown onto the pitch from the North Stand as around 40 Rovers supporters made their way along the front of the upper deck, with Linfield fans reacting by moving from the back of the Kop to the front.
While all that was going on Linfield defender David Armstrong headed home 26 minutes in to give his team hope that they could turn the tie around.
Missiles were then thrown between the stands before police dressed in riot gear moved in to force the travelling supporters back, with batons being used also.
Officers then came under fire as a small number of seats in the North Stand were ripped up, two thrown onto the playing area and one at the police.
The match continued, with former Linfield striker Thomas Stewart pouncing on a slack pass by Niall Quinn and nutmegging Armstrong before unleashing a 25 yard shot that flew straight over the head of goalkeeper Ross Glendinning.
Calm was eventually restored and the poisonous atmosphere largely quelled, but police had to ensure that there was no fresh flare up and they maintained their presence alongside the Rovers support throughout the rest of the game, while sectarian songs continued from both sets of supporters. Stewart scored Rovers' second when he tapped home from a yard out after a shot hit the crossbar with 20 minutes to go and the bad night for Linfield was complete five minutes later when Billy Dennehy's shot from 25 yards wriggled under the body of Glendinning and into the net.
LINFIELD: Glendinning, Burns, Douglas, Armstrong, Quinn, Lowry, Mulgrew, Gault, McCaul, Thompson, Carvill. Subs: Deane, Henderson, Curran, Hanley, Garrett, Ervin, Clarke.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Murphy, McCormack, Ledwith, McGuinness, Foran, Chambers, Robinson, Rice, O'Connor, Sheppard, Stewart. Subs: Dennehy for O'Connor (57), Finn for Chambers (62), McCabe for Sheppard (74), Brush, Kilduff, Elebert, Oman.
Referee: Mervyn Smyth (Belfast).