Only A Game? Hatred, viciousness and violence

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I have a weekly column in the Sunday Journal but I couldn’t wait until the weekend to share what I witnessed at the Brandywell on Tuesday night after Linfield was beaten 3-1 by Derry City in the Setanta Sports Cup.

I arrived at the game early and went to park my car in my usual spot near the Long Tower Youth Club; there wasn’t a Linfield fan in sight.

Setanta Cup, second leg, Brandywell, 20-3-12 Riot police move in to the car park at Brandywell as Linfield supporters cause trouble on their way to buses on Tuesday night after being beaten by Derry City. Picture Margaret McLaughlin

Setanta Cup, second leg, Brandywell, 20-3-12 Riot police move in to the car park at Brandywell as Linfield supporters cause trouble on their way to buses on Tuesday night after being beaten by Derry City. Picture Margaret McLaughlin

Now, it’s not often I get the chance to take in a Derry City match as a fan and although it was fantastic to watch how Declan Devine’s team totally outplayed the Irish League champions in the second half I couldn’t help but feel anger and frustration towards the small number of Linfield fans who ran riot after the game.

Credit must go to the Derry City stewards and health and safety team. The way the segregation of the two sets of supporters was organised was nothing short of practical, proactive and it abounded in common sense.

The Linfield supporters flowed into the Brandywell minutes before kick-off.

The fans proceeded to drape their Union Jack flags along the front of the stand (I am near positive that I saw them passing around a Confederate battle flag at one stage).

�/Presseye.com - 20th March 2012.  Press Eye Ltd - Northern Ireland - Setanta Cup quarter final 2nd leg.  Derry City V Linfield.''Derry's Stephen McLaughlin scores his goal.''Mandatory Credit Photo Lorcan Doherty / Presseye.com

�/Presseye.com - 20th March 2012. Press Eye Ltd - Northern Ireland - Setanta Cup quarter final 2nd leg. Derry City V Linfield.''Derry's Stephen McLaughlin scores his goal.''Mandatory Credit Photo Lorcan Doherty / Presseye.com

I have no problem with the Linfield fans waving their flags, it’s part of their culture, it’s part of who they are.

However, where I do take exception is when fans, whether they be Linfield fans or Derry City fans, turn a football match into some sort of sordid cauldron of aggression, fear and intolerance.

As soon as the match started, Linfield fans started to chant about the IRA, Bobby Sands, the Pope, the Catholic Church, Londonderry, the Queen and again, the IRA. During one ten minute spell they mentioned the IRA 36 times.

The fans also sang that they hated Felix Healy, chanted that Bobby Sands died for “f**k all” and made reference to the recent Catholic Church sex abuse scandals.

It was disgusting, plain and simple.

Some young Derry City fans didn’t help matters when they stood close to the separation barrier and shouted “PIRA”.

It was deplorable to watch and hear this. Any right-minded parent would have walked out of the stadium immediately.

After the game was over I, a friend and his younger brother and his friend made our way back to the car park near the Long Tower Youth Club.

I couldn’t believe what I saw.

There must have been ten police jeeps all facing up the way towards the Lone Moor Road. There was a stony silence amongst the crowd of Derry City supporters that stood and watched. Nothing was thrown and no sectarian chants were shouted.

I decided that I wasn’t going to let a few drunken football fans stop me from getting to my car so I pushed my way through the crowd.

There was a queue of half a dozen buses waiting to leave the car park. They were full of Linfield supporters.

It’s important to point out many of the fans were already on the buses but many of them sat with their heads in their hands whilst others shook their heads disapprovingly at what was going on outside.

I decided to get a closer look. All that I could see was Linfield fans arguing with other Linfield fans. The police stepped in and made a barrier between the Linfield supporters and the watchful band of Derry City supporters at the top of the car park.

I heard roaring and shouting and saw a drunken man confronting a police officer. A woman tried to drag him away but he reacted aggressively and pushed her away.

The way some of the Linfield fans behaved at the Brandywell on Tuesday night was nothing short of barbaric.

I know of one mother who did not allow her young son to attend the game because she knew what could happen. This isn’t right!

I wrote a column about sectarianism in Irish football a few months ago and was berated by some Northern Ireland fans.

I witnessed it first hand at the Brandywell on Tuesday night and stand over everything I’ve written.

Unless something is done about it soon then countless young football fans will be denied the pleasure of watching their home town team play good football and win matches.