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Northern Ireland fans attacked — for singing

By Lesley-Anne Henry and Mark McIntosh

Northern Ireland football fans brutally beaten with baseball bats in Bratislava have spoken of their horror at the unprovoked attack.

The supporters were set upon in the Dubliner bar by a group of up to 15 men thought to be from a security firm – just hours before their team took on Slovakia in a weekend World Cup qualifier.

They were beaten with batons, knuckle-dusters and baseball bats and it is understood two fans were knocked unconscious.

Among those requiring hospital treatment were Co Fermanagh friends Anthony Gavin (29) and Matthew Ogle (23), who suffered facial injuries. A number of others were left badly shaken by the terrifying ordeal.

Mr Gavin, from Maguiresbridge, lost seven teeth and his left eye was closed over after his face was smashed. His pal, Matthew, also needed medical attention for an eye injury. Matthew said they were attacked for singing.

“We were all singing and having good fun then the doormen had a problem and moved in and started on my friend. There were weapons – baseball bats, knuckle dusters and stuff like that. It was scary.

“The doormen were waiting for it to happen and then, bang. It’s disgusting to see, you know. It’s a nice place and I’d like to come back but this really doesn’t set a good example, does it?”

Mr Gavin, who had difficulty speaking because of his injuries said the attack would not prevent him supporting Northern Ireland, at home or away.

Eyewitness Billy Wilton, from the Castlereagh/North Down Northern Ireland Supporters’ Club said: “It was sickening, and it came completely out of the blue. All the Northern Ireland fans were in the bar enjoying themselves, annoying nobody and singing Northern Ireland songs.

“Then these guys waded in and handed out beatings to anybody that was in their path. It is the worst violence I have ever seen following Northern Ireland.”

The Irish Football Association have promised to fully investigate the incident.

“The boys said they were in the Dubliner enjoying themselves. Yes, they were singing but then all of a sudden these big men – really big I’m told – stormed into the bar and attacked at will,” said IFA president Raymond Kennedy.

“They were the innocent parties in all of this. Usually when we go away, the police deal with any nonsense that may go on.

“So it’s a major issue for me if this wasn’t the police as we are led to believe it was some form of security firm who decided just to clear the bar. And yes if that was the case then it is assault. We certainly want reports on the incident.

“We have to go through the Slovakian Football Association and British Embassy for answers. Stephen Grange is out here with us and will be asking him to lead our investigation out here and when we get back.

“As far as I know the Slovak police have not spoken to the owners of The Dubliner but I would encourage them to find out who these people were and why they went in there.”

Geoff Wilson, head of the IFA’s Communications and Marketing added: “It was an unprovoked attack that is without doubt. We’ve talked to the guys and given our sympathies. But they’ve told us that it will not stop them coming back to our away games.”

Around 1,500 Northern Ireland supporters were in Bratislava for the match on Saturday.

IFA chief executive Howard Wells said: “From what I can gather it was an unprovoked attack.

“Our fans are always good as gold everywhere they go.” He also praised the fans’ restraint.

Gary McAllister, a spokesman for the Amalgamation of Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs dismissed claims the fans had been singing provocative songs.

“Witnesses told me there was nothing sectarian at all in the songs they sang – it was just football songs.

“I know some of the fans who were attacked and they’ve no history of being involved in anything bad in the past. Maybe they were a bit boisterous, but there was no reason for them to be attacked.”

Belfast Telegraph


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