Norn Iron’s Football League is of course a joke.
The standard is of course awful.
It is semi-professional because anybody who can actually play football, has been head-hunted to play in England.
Basically Football is poorly supported. Die-hard football fans will of course watch any game anywhere. And unhappily there are die-hard thugs who attach themselves to the bigger clubs.
While there is an old cliche that lesser teams are supported by one man and a dog or other teams will arrange kick off to facilitate the ten people who actually show up…the reality is that the big teams are watched on a regular basis by at most 2,000 people.
The big teams in 2013…Linfield, very much the establishment Belfast team and the only one that actually has a credible stadium in South Belfast (it doubles as the home of Norn Irons pathetic so called national team)…Glentoran from East Belfast and Cliftonville from North Belfast.
Linfield and Glentoran are supported by unionists and to their own surprise Cliftonville has emerged as the team favoured by the city’s Nationalists.
Since Belfast Celtic from West Belfast were forced out of the Norn Iron League…victims of sectarianism circa 1949, Belfasts nationalists have had no team to support…except to rally round the team that isnt Linfield.
In my day (1960s) Distillery were the team that briefly challenged Linfields supremacy.
Now it is Cliftonville.
Yet part of the attraction …to the annoyance of the football establishment and genuine fans…of Norn Iron football ?.is naked sectarianism.
Certainly the average Catholic-nationalist football fan has little regard for Norn Irons “national” team. It is too tainted by the squalid sectarianism of its fans.
Genuine efforts by authorities to deal with the problem are really too little and too late.
Players from nationalist backgrounds such as Darren Gibson, James McClean and Marc Wilson are now regular internationals for …the Republic of Ireland.
In truth, watching Manchester United play Barcelona on a cold wet February night …in front of a roaring fire…is actually a better option than watching Bangor play Ballymena United with the proverbial one man and his dog.
Thus when Linfield played Cliftonville on Tuesday night, there was little chance that the football would matter.
The Linfield crowd sang Orange songs.
The Cliftonville crowd sang IRA songs.
It was so bad…that the referee asked for a public address message …urging an end to the chanting.
The odd thing is that TV commentators reporting on Norn Iron international matches…have chosen not to mention the very audible anti-catholic chants directed not at the opposing team but the Catholics on theN Orna Iron team.
The truth is that sectarianism in a football ground is usually ignored.
But the European authorities are interested.
The collapse of the Communist bloc has unleashed a vicious neo-Nazi and racist element in football grounds in Russia, Serbia, Poland and other places.
Black footballers are routinely abused and European football authorities are at last threatening that matches be played behind closed doors…a much more credible sanction than pathetic fines.
The prospect of European Footballing authorities taking an interest in Linfield and Cliftonville seems far-fetched but the prospect of a matched being played behind closed doors is bad news for cash-strapped football clubs…and the one man with the dog.
Yet the headline from the Linfield-Cliftonville match is the sectarian chanting. But the notion peddled by a newspaper journalist yesterday that fans dont want to be reading this kind of headline over the last couple of years is only half the story.
if Journalists had tackled a problem which is as old as I am years ago….then maybe the problem would have been addressed..
NORMALISATION? We deal with problems by pretending they dont exist.