Northern Ireland’s two biggest football clubs have been told they can now play on public holidays after a controversial ban was lifted.
Belfast’s ‘Big Two’ Linfield and Glentoran had appealed a ban which had been imposed by the Irish FA's disciplinary committee last month.
The measures followed disturbances at the Linfield v Glentoran derby last Boxing Day, during which riot police had to be called in as spectators tore out seats and threw missiles.
In February the IFA banned the clubs from playing each other on public holidays for two years.
In a statement issued yesterday the IFA Appeals Board said it accepted that the trouble was caused by “a small minority” and that both clubs were implicated in the disturbances.
However, it said that some aspects of the current penalty would affect true supporters and was “unjust and inappropriate”.
“Both clubs are working hard to promote football to all spectators and their efforts must be acknowledged,” the board stated.
“We feel that the penalty to ban playing on holidays is not in the best interests of the promotion of football as it prevents a large number of true supporters from seeing their teams play. Thus the appeals panel is lifting this sanction.”
A £1,000 fine which was originally imposed on the clubs still stands, the board said, but a two-year suspended fine of up to £40,000 will be activated if there is any more trouble.
“This penalty applies to those matches played on a public holiday, bank holiday or in the holiday period between December 24 to January 2,” the board said.
“This penalty will be automatically applied if there are future disturbances that are dealt with by the disciplinary committee within this period.”
Glentoran chairman Aubry Ralph said he was “delighted” at the ban reversal but was worried about the suspended fine.
“Both Linfield and ourselves are a bit concerned about that and we may have further discussions about it,” he said.
“I'm not sure who will decide what is serious disorder, but hopefully we will have no trouble at the matches at all.”