Belfast Telegraph

Comment: Halfwit Crusaders 'fans' who abused Joe Gormley do not represent close-knit Irish League family

Class act: Cliftonville striker Joe Gormley was the victim of senseless abuse
Class act: Cliftonville striker Joe Gormley was the victim of senseless abuse

By Billy Weir

There are times when being an Irish League fan can leave you in an awkward place when trying to defend the game we all love.

Such a time was Saturday when two incidents occurred that brought shame on those responsible, when Cliftonville's Joe Gormley was treated abhorrently in the north Belfast derby.

A Crusaders 'fan' (I can't for all reasons of good taste, and because this is a family newspaper, call him what I would like to) decided it would be hilarious to spit on one of the game's shining stars.

If that wasn't reprehensible enough, then another of his pea-brained accomplices decided it would be great craic to ask how Joe's dead father was. Absolute vermin.

Yes, there is rivalry in the game, it's what makes it tick, but this is not just taking it too far, it needs stamped out straight away, and by those who know who they are.

Full credit to Crusaders as the club moved quickly to condemn the halfwits responsible, while rival players and fans jumped to the support of Joe.

We should treasure the likes of Joe Gormley. Yes, boo him if you like, shout at him if you must, but we are privileged to see his striking abilities in our game.

It wasn't the only incident of the weekend, with a few head the balls at Carrick Rangers thinking it would be a great idea to attack a Larne supporters' club bus.

The classy side of rivalry was shown by the players before the game who gave their east Antrim rivals, who won the title the previous week, a guard of honour.

No one is naive enough to think that there aren't isolated pockets of scuffling, mostly outside grounds these days, as stewarding inside has improved immeasurably over the years.

But as was witnessed at St. Andrew's a couple of weeks ago when a brave Birmingham City 'supporter' decided it would be the right thing to do to come on and assault Aston Villa's Jack Grealish, it only needs one halfwit and then the game is dragged through the mud again.

It was all a far cry from my own experience on Saturday, where I had been invited along by Ballymena United chairman John Taggart to one of the club's highly successful corporate lunches.

Now, on the minus side I did have to sit beside Jackie Fullerton and Gerry Arconada-Armstrong, but I still manfully waded through my sirloin and pudding.

There were 300 fans in attendance, true fans, men and women who put their hands in their pockets to bring in much-needed cash to the club, with John explaining that one dinner alone could help the club pay the wages of a player for the season.

And the efforts of the fans didn't end there. Alan O'Loan, a stalwart of the club and chairman of the Paramount Supporters' Club, handed over a cheque for £1,000 at the lunch.

Now that doesn't sound much, but there are only 10 members of the club now, which has been around since the year dot, but this band of 10 good men and true are the ticking heartbeat of clubs.

The Spirit of '89 Supporters' Club were also in attendance. They are the new kids on the block - they have only been in existence for five years - but after a Night at the Races on Saturday they have raised over £12,000 in that time. A wonderful effort.

And while Alan and his chums are slightly longer in the tooth, there was also a much younger guest in attendance, a little lad called Harry - three days old - who was there with his mum who wasn't going to miss the lunch for anything.

But for me the true nature of fans was shown by something at the weekend that thankfully had a happy ending.

Messages started popping up on Facebook and Twitter that the family of a Linfield fan who had gone missing were worried about his whereabouts and sent out an SOS.

The response from the Irish League family was incredible, the posts shared hundreds of times, support coming from rival managers, players and fans, and thankfully it ended with the supporter found safe and now back home with his family.

Yes, there are a few rotten eggs who occasionally bring shame to the game, but the shame is all theirs.

The game is ours, we don't need or want you.

In the past you would have been given a good cuff around the back of the head, but I would call on all true fans to hound these people out back into the gutter where they belong.

Fledglings can help Cock and Hens get back on top perch

Alan Hansen was famously left with egg on his bake when he announced 'You win nothing with kids', referring to Sir Alex Ferguson's fledglings who went on to keep Manchester United at the top for a decade.

It may be a tad premature to add Glentoran's new hatch of rising young talent into that exalted company, but Gary Smyth's kids won a fine three points on Saturday against high-flying Ballymena United.

Paul O'Neill scored a fabulous opener for the Glens, who won every battle across what can only now loosely be described as a pitch, and incredibly he was one of eight teenagers in the Glens' panel.

James McCarthy played his part in that goal but his day turned sour when youthful exuberance took him too far and he was shown a red card for a badly judged lunge on Andy McGrory.

He was in tears and hid his face as he trudged off, probably fearful he would sink deep into the Braid Everglades, but he should hold his head up high as his performance up to that point was superb.

Granted some of the kids were there to boost a squad that was shorn of senior players such as Calum Birney, Darren Murray, Willie Grattan and Ross Redman through injury or suspension, the dug-out looked more like a crèche.

Of those eight, seven have come through the Glentoran Academy, which is a massive achievement, joining the likes of Birney and Grattan who are past graduates.

This is the future for our game in this part of the world. Most teams can't afford to go out and splash megabucks on players, so they have to have a consistent conveyor belt of talent coming through.

There was a lovely piece on Glentoran's website following Saturday's win where the magnificent seven - O'Neill, McCarthy, Sean Og Gallagher, Malachy Smith, Paul McLaughlin, Jack Henderson and Sean Wallace - were lauded.

Incredibly, teens have played a whopping 3,864 first-team minutes for the Glens this season, while there was a great Tweet put out by local football's Statto, Marshall Gillespie, at the weekend showing the figures for the whole in the league.

The Glens sit second in that table, Ards topping the list, and again this has been forced upon them by not having the cash to splash, while remarkably Linfield's Dad's Army has only chalked up 35 minutes for teens this season. They're doing rightly, though, with the old guard!

But back to the Glens, and Academy manager Stephen Lowry was a very proud Father Cock and Hen.

"Success stories like these are what makes it all worthwhile as an Academy coach and manager. These are a coach's real trophies when working in youth football," he said.

"I just hope they get in and stay there as I know what they are capable of and can really help the first team get back up the table. They are still young of course and need to be given time.

"We need another wave, it's been too long since our last golden generation of Kirk, Elliott, Leeper, Nixon and co, and I genuinely see the potential for that coming through the system now."

One swallow doesn't make a summer, or eight fledglings a future, of course, but it can only be good for the Glens.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of exciting young talent, it would be remiss of me not to mention the achievement of someone who is at the other end of the scale.

Elliott Morris notched up the 250th clean sheet of his career on Saturday, an incredible achievement. His place in the team alone took the average age up to about 33!

Scoring goals is simply elementary for Watson 

Ballymena United refuse to go away quietly in the race for the Danske Bank Premiership title and after last Saturday’s awful display against Glentoran roared back with a 6-1 thumping of Institute on Tuesday night.

 It may not be enough to cause sleepless nights at Windsor Park with the reality being that if the Blues win their next three games — away to Dungannon and Ballymena and at home to Crusaders — the title will be theirs.

 But fair play to the Sky Blues for bouncing back to close the gap to six points and, probably more importantly for them, keep the gap between themselves and Crusaders to five points in the battle for second place.

 One interesting point to note on Tuesday was a goal for Albert Watson in his second coming as a Ballymena player. His last goal came back in November 2010 against Glenavon, but, in fairness, he has been busy since then.

 He moved to Linfield before emigrating to play for FC Edmonton in Canada and then had a spell in Iceland at KR, or Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur to give them their full name, where, of course, the most unpopular person is the fan who shouts, ‘Give us a K’.

 One thing certainly hasn’t changed in that time, Albert still gives his all in every game, something Blues fans will also remember from his time at Windsor Park. He should get a rousing reception from them when they come to the Showgrounds in a fortnight.

Final word

Well done to Crues stalwart Declan Caddell who picked up a wee memento from the club on Saturday to mark his 400th appearance for the side. And no finer man than Roy McDonald to hand it over — two legends together.

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