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Paramilitaries put price on head of sneak thieves who burgled teams during match

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The East Belfast Cup trophy

The East Belfast Cup trophy

The East Belfast Cup trophy

A thief who struck at a Belfast football team's changing room during a match has scored a spectacular own goal - resulting in the UVF putting a £1,000 price on his head.

The sneak thief struck at a big match in the loyalist heartland of east Belfast on Saturday.

The gala game was the annual pre-season East Belfast Cup final at the Alderman Tommy Patton Memorial ground off Holywood Road.

It was a hotly-contested local derby between East Belfast FC and their near-neighbours, Harland & Wolff Welders FC.

The match ended in a 2-2 draw after 90 minutes, but the Welders lifted the cup after winning a penalty shoot-out 4-3.

There was a big crowd at the game, with the car park full, according to one spectator. But it was reported yesterday that the players of both teams returned to their changing rooms to find they had been targeted by thieves.

"Wallets, watches and other valuables had been stolen," sources claimed.

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Then later yesterday, it emerged that the so-called 'commanding officer' of the UVF's East Belfast Brigade was "letting it be known" that the paramilitary gang was offering a £1,000 reward for information about who carried out the audacious dressing room heist.

The UVF godfather, known as 'The Beast from the East', is a keen football supporter.

Said one East Belfast source: "It is obvious that whoever carried out this theft has scored a very serious 'own goal'. The UVF are outraged. They want to get to this guy before the police do.

"This robbery occurred deep in what they regard as their own turf. And both the organisation, and their main man, the commander, have lost considerable face over this."

For that reason, sources claim, it is unlikely Saturday's big match 'snatch of the day' would have been reported to the PSNI.

But last night, a PSNI spokesman said: "Police in east Belfast received a report of theft at a sports facility at Inverary Avenue on Saturday. It was reported that items were taken from changing rooms at the facility sometime on Saturday afternoon."

Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers was at the Patton Park game. He said he heard or noticed nothing untoward during the match.

He continued: "It was a very exciting final and a great advertisement for football."

He said the dressing room robbery would have been "very disappointing and annoying for the players coming in to find their possessions had been ransacked and robbed".

The former Belfast Lord Mayor added: "I hope the culprit, or culprits, will be caught."

Sources say the thief, or thieves, may have slipped into the changing rooms through a door they say is sometimes left open so that spectators at the ground can go to the toilet.

Belfast City Council owns the football complex previously known as Inverary Playing Fields but renamed in honour of former Belfast First Citizen, the late Tommy Patton. The complex is the home ground of East Belfast FC.


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