Belfast Telegraph

Biting Back: 'Elfin safety' limits league crowd numbers

By Jim Gracey

Elfin safety is very important, especially at this time of year when the well-being of Santa's little helpers must be paramount. But what did it have to do with restricting the bumper holiday attendances in the good old Irish League (or NIFL in new money)?

Thousands flocked to watch a festive feast of goals in the Boxing Day games with 'sold out' signs up for the Big Two and Mid-Ulster derbies at Windsor and Shamrock and close to all-ticket capacity elsewhere.

So how come the TV footage from the games still showed swathes of empty seats? Elfin safety, we are told, and it might as well have been for the legislation being used to restrict crowd numbers year-round at the bigger Irish League games is away with the fairies, compared to its application elsewhere.

Of course there needs to be risk management anywhere crowds gather in large numbers, and that's the point.

Local football appears to be over-regulated by the Health and Safety police in relation to other sports and events. Black Friday anyone? Televised hand to hand combat in the shopping centres and not a clipboard in sight.

Most Boxing Day games needed no more regulation than a works outing with the derby crowds made up mostly of families, friends and neighbours, bewildered as to why more cannot be admitted on trust where the behaviour track record is good.

It jars as well to see seats unfilled when the clubs need the money and there's a demand to occupy them. There needs to be a happy medium between ensuring spectator safety and choking a game that sees itself as an easy target for a bigger cottage industry than Santa's workshop.

Belfast Telegraph

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