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Irish League grounds will be closed if crowd trouble continues: IFA warning is ‘not an idle threat’

Clubs warned games could soon be played ‘behind closed doors’


Linfield fans entered the playing area at Coleraine on Saturday

Linfield fans entered the playing area at Coleraine on Saturday

Pacemaker Press

Linfield fans entered the playing area at Coleraine on Saturday

The threat to close Irish League grounds and play matches behind closed doors if crowd trouble persists in football here is not an idle one, an Irish FA source has told the Belfast Telegraph.

In recent weeks Linfield, Glentoran, Cliftonville and Coleraine have all been charged and fined for breaches of Article 33 of the Irish FA’s Disciplinary Code and it is understood there are increasing concerns about ‘spectator misconduct’ amongst governing body officials who have been shocked at the number of incidents this season in which fans have entered the playing area and objects have been thrown on the pitch.

An Irish FA insider admitted the IFA Disciplinary Committee have the power to set an example “if things continue to get out of control.”

He said: “The closing of grounds is very much a possibility. It is not an idle threat. If incidents continue to arise and depending on the seriousness of the incidents, grounds could be closed and teams could be told they are playing behind closed doors or that they will have to play home games away from their own stadium.

“The power is there to do that and that power will be used if necessary. If things continue to get out of control an example will have to be set.”

Earlier this month Linfield were fined £1000 for ‘spectator misconduct’ during their Danske Bank Premiership fixture at Windsor Park versus Glentoran on December 27 and warned by the IFA that if “a similar offence occur again they will be asked to play a match/matches behind closed doors or away from home.” The IFA added “this is a result of being subject to other spectator misconduct charges this season.”

The Blues challenged the charge.

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Last week the IFA announced they had charged Glentoran with a breach of Article 33 during the same fixture away to Linfield and issued the east Belfast club with a £300 fine. The same fine and charge was issued to Cliftonville due to events during their league game at home to Crusaders on January 4.

At the start of the month Coleraine were fined £200 for supporter misconduct in December’s Irish Premiership defeat by Glentoran after items were thrown at visiting goalkeeper Aaron McCarey.

Bannsiders chairman Colin McKendry said such behaviour was unacceptable, while in October Cliftonville issued a strong statement condemning chanting “by those who chose to use the game and our club as a flag convenience” that occurred from a small section of their fans at a league game away to Linfield that month.

At the weekend both Linfield and Glentoran released statements thanking their fans for their support and appealing for good behaviour.

Prior to their 1-0 victory against Warrenpoint Town at the Oval on Saturday, which took them top of the Irish Premiership table, Glentoran said they were fined by the IFA “for an incident of spectator misbehaviour at Solitude involving a smoke bomb,” in relation to a recent league game against Cliftonville.

The Glens added: “Please don’t let one or two misguided fans put a dampener on the most exciting time we have all experienced in a long time.”

The statement declared that offences included throwing articles capable of causing injury, indecent, sectarian or discriminatory chanting, entering the playing area, possession of fireworks, smokebombs, flares etc and possession of alcohol on prescribed vehicles en route to a regulated match.

Linfield’s statement said: “The club would reiterate and emphasise recent appeals to supporters to avoid all forms of negative behaviour which could land them and the club in trouble with the relevant authorities.

“Linfield FC has received unwelcome sanctions from the game’s governing authorities on more than one occasion this season and the club will continue to rely on the backing and understanding of the vast majority of our loyal supporters in our efforts to avoid further punitive sanctions which are damaging to the club’s resources, as well as the image and reputation of the club and our supporters.”

Meanwhile, Ballymena United continue to conduct an internal investigation after the IFA Disciplinary Committee opted to delay its decision on a controversial incident at the Ballymena Showgrounds on December 27 against Coleraine after a number of home supporters entered the pitch following David Parkhouse’s injury-time winner for the Sky Blues.

Ballymena face charges relating to spectator misconduct and bringing the game into disrepute. There were claims that a supporter allegedly tried to strike a Coleraine player.

United stated that a number of individuals had been “identified and suspended indefinitely” from their home games while an investigation continued.

A Ballymena United statement said: “Following submissions from all parties, the (disciplinary) committee deferred a decision on a sanction pending confirmation from the club of the outcome of our own internal investigation.

“The board of Ballymena United will meet to consider the matter and have agreed to further correspond with the Irish FA within one month, following the conclusion of our investigation.”

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