Tuesday, February 17, 2009

IFA- Incompetent Foolish Amateurs

On Boxing Day last, Linfield were leading Glentoran 3-0, when a group of Glentoran fans broke into no man's land between the two sets of fans, taunted Bluemen in the Kop opposite, and proceeded to launch fireworks, break seats and throw them at Linfield fans. One fan got onto the pitch and ran towards the Linfield end before he was wrestled to the ground by security. The stewards were powerless to prevent this attack, and it took the arrival of riot police, a full 7 minutes later, to send the brave schooligans running like billy-o back to safety. For anyone in doubt of the perpetrators, see for yourself:

Glentoran Scum, Boxing Day 2008

It turned out after the event that the action had apparently been pre-planned on networking sites such as Bebo, and that some participants were well-known, and even regulars on Irish League Supporters Forum. To date, no individual action has been taken by the authorities against those responsible.

Amazingly, despite the ashamed reaction of their fans, Glentoran FC came out fighting in an amazing piece of deflection, denial and revision:

The Boxing Day incident raised a number of issues on which we will seek clarification. These include problems in regard to stewarding and policing, the prolonged singing of party songs in the Kop (contrary to UEFA 10 Point Plan), fireworks being launched from Kop towards the North Stand and the non-functioning of the PA system in North Stand.

We must not lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of the large crowd behaved superbly well and for their sake it is vital every effort is made to eliminate any unsavoury incidents that detract from their enjoyment and safety.

Glentoran will co-operate fully with any official investigations into the events of 26 December. Hopefully any such investigations will be transparent, objective and constructive.

Admittedly, one can expect nothing less of Idiot Mittens Ralph, whose sole raison d'etre seems to be getting on up on Linfield FC - see Waterworth, Clarke, statements regarding recent postponed fixtures, etc etc. Linfield, for once, responded swiftly and correctly, and with dignity:


Linfield FC statement on Boxing Day

Linfield Football Club wishes to express disappointment at what could be seen by some as attempts by Glentoran Football Club to deflect from the serious trouble instigated by a small section of their supporters at the 'Big Two' derby game at Windsor Park on Boxing Day.

The Oval club in a recent statement have called for clarification on a number of issues surrounding the game.

Linfield Football Club have no problem with the Irish Football Association fully investigating any breaches that may have taken place during the game in the various parts of the stadium and would insist that the report of the IFA assessor at the game will be crucial to any action being taken by the governing authority.

Considerable damage was caused to seating and other structures in the lower deck of the North Stand, which housed the Glentoran fans, a small number of whom seemed intent in having the game abandoned after their team had gone three goals behind. This is in no way a criticism of the vast majority of Glentoran supporters who were obviously as disgusted as the Linfield support at the disorderly scenes.

Until the referees and IFA assessors' report is fully considered by the IFA, it would be injudicious to make further comment.

Linfield fans were further nonplussed and no little angered when it emerged that the clubs had a 'Gentlemen's Agreement' whereby the home club was responsible for the cost of damages incurred, regardless of who inflicted them. So far, so bad.

However, events of the last 24 hours were the straw that broke the camel's back, and have shocked, angered, and convinced fans of both clubs that the Clubs' Committee, and the organisation in charge of our game have become detached from reality. To wit:


THE Irish FA’s Disciplinary Committee met on Monday evening.

Linfield v Glentoran – 26 December 2009

At a meeting of the Irish FA's Disciplinary Committee the following decisions were made in connection with incidents which occurred on the occasion of the above JJB Sports Premiership match.

1. Linfield and Glentoran have both been fined £1000.

2. No matches between Linfield and Glentoran will be played on a bank holiday, public holiday or in the holiday period between 24 December and 2 January for the next 2 seasons. This will be implemented from 1 August 2009

Rival clubs in holiday match ban

Where does one start with such a decision? Let's try the injustice:

1. How in the name of Mohammed, when it was Glentoran fans who broke down shutters, smashed seats, launched fireworks, encroached upon the playing area and threw dozens of seats onto the pitch and at opposition fans (admittedly some of which were returned in retaliation), do both clubs get the SAME punishment? The only justification I can see is that Linfield FC were responsible for security, in which case, considering the PSNI and BCC H&S signed off the safety plan, what aspects of that plan, if any, did we not follow? What else could we have been expected to have done? The blame lies at the incompetence of ScroteNI and their relative impotence to take affirmative physical action.

2. How exactly is punishing 10000 fans for the actions of 50 individuals in any sense 'just'? Kennedy came on the Nolan Show on Radio Ulster today trotting out the usual guff and lies, intimating that this move will mean 'true' fans will feel 'safer' and will get to see the rearranged game, thus suggesting that it was twice-a-year 'blow ins' who were responsible. What a crock. And how exactly will moving the game to another date reduce the capacity for trouble? People who want to cause trouble will do so regardless of the day, and there's not a great deal that can be done to stop them, save for swift police intervention of all kinds.

Both clubs will lose out on tens of thousands more than the original £1000 for disturbances. Put simply, Linfield-Glentoran Boxing Day is the biggest fixture in the local sporting calender, an occasional Big One Irish Cup Final aside. This is the showpiece game, always attracting 10000+ fans. My conservative estimate is that this decision could cost both clubs at least 30k each, no small beer in Irish League terms, especially in the current climate.

What good does it serve the Irish League removing this game from the fixture list? Kennedy claimed IL crowds are up. Are they? Did he see the swathes of empty seats at Mourneview on Saturday, a ground that used to be full when Linfield visited? Did he count the 562 at Cliftonville-DC at the weekend? Linfield and Glentoran's crowds are noticably down on last season, and this is coming from the fans themselves. In a period in the IL's history when we are trying to get every fan we can through the turnstiles, when one club cannot afford to stay in the top league due to low attendances, what is the logic in turning potential customers away? We really are down to the diehards plus the floating fans, Raymond: these mystical 'new' customers don't exist, they're down their local on a Saturday afternoon watching United and Liverpool, and your decision is not going to make them think 'Oh look, the IFA disproportionally punished a bit of trouble on Boxing Day, the Irish League is safe, I'm going to start going to the games'. FANS ARE NOT STAYING AWAY BECAUSE A FEW KIDS RIOTED.

The collective punishment is entirely counter-productive. I'm not advocating it, it's wrong, but I can understand the logic behind Linfield fans thinking 'if that's the punishment for damaging our stadium, let's do likewise' and reciprocating the act next time the clubs meet at the Oval. What happened to the punishment fitting the crime? And natural justice? The kids who kicked the crap out of the lower deck of the North Stand on 26th December must be laughing their heads off. Result!

Kennedy, surely the most incompetent association head in the world, ever, a suitable figurehead for his motley crew of amateur incompetents, also suggested that the Big One Boxing Day fixture was one to avoid for families, saying "SURE WHO'D TAKE THEIR FAMILY OUT TO THAT?!". Laughable rubbish. At least 6 of my immediate family were there, I'm sure many others are like me, and while they found the events unwelcome, they're not going to be put off attending again, and certainly, moving the game away from a Boxing Day will not make them think 'Oh it's safe now, we can go'.

Now we get into the ban-Big-One-games-over-the-Christmas-period decision.

Who made this decision?

- According to Jim Kerr this morning in the Newsletter, the committee is an "eight-man committee, made up of people who have no knowledge of running a senior club or finances" which would suggest it comprises of representatives from junior/intermediate football.

So there you have it. Blundering, incompetent old goats from football's backwaters wield the power in Irish League football. You couldn't make it up.

Why did they make it?

- One can speculate until the cows come home. Some suggest they wanted to flex their muscle, to show they have the power; some believe the the pro-summer football lobby wanted to torpedo the one cornerstone of winter football; others think they took a perverse pleasure in taking the biggest two clubs in Ulster down a peg or two; while some more reckon they wanted their teams to get a crack at the Boxing Day Linfield/Glentoran jackpot. I do not know. What I do know is that they should not be in a position to make such a decision, that finally, if any proof were still needed, this country needs a root-and-branch overhaul of its association's structure, to ensure that out-of-their depth amateurs with no experience at this level never get the chance to make utterly ridiculous, self-damaging decisions such as this ever ever again. In this respect at least, Howard Wells was right.

What I want to see:

1. Linfield sticking up for the club and its fans: Kerr's been doing a good job so far, both in the Newsletter and on the Nolan Show.
2. The Football Disorder Act introduced in Northern Ireland.
3. The PSNI actually doing something for once, identifying the culprits from that day and punishing them accordingly.
4. Linfield finding an effective alternative to ScroteNI.
5. Glentoran getting an appropriate punishment for the part of their fans in the violence, and a bill for the damages.
6. A radical overhaul of the IFA, ridding ourselves of the dead wood old school tie neetwork, and putting people in charge who care about the local game, have a clue about effective marketing and a business brain.
7. The Boxing Day fixture to be restored WITH NO RESTRICTIONS.

What do I expect? None of the above, with the possible exception of 1.

Both Glentoran and Linfield have said they will appeal; Kennedy all but invited them to during the radio interview; and the good money is on that appeal being successful. The downside of a successful appeal, however, will be a further restriction in attendance (probably available on to ST holders and members) and an early kick-off, probably at 11am.

Boxing Day Big One games will never be the same again, thanks to the actions of a stupid cider-soaked few on the terraces, and a gin-soaked few in an IFA boardroom. Shame on both of them.

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