15 October 2005

Sectarian thugs hit football matches

Belfast Telegraph

15 October 2005

A BALLYMENA soccer league was in turmoil today after two matches were cancelled because of sectarian tensions with fears about the presence of paramilitaries on the sidelines.

Brian Montgomery, secretary of the Ballymena Saturday Morning League, said the police told him the UDA was intent on being present at a match involving a mainly Catholic team in loyalist Harryville.

Because of fears for the safety of players the fixture, due to have started at 10.15am, was cancelled. Another match, involving two teams seen as being mainly Protestant, at Dunfane Playing Fields in a part of the town with a Catholic majority, was also called off after reports that republicans were set to gather there.

Now an emergency meeting of Saturday Morning League officials is to be held this week in an attempt to get assurances that football matches can go ahead in peace in all districts.

Sources have said that if that doesn't happen the future of the league is on the line.

Last season republicans attacked players during a match involving Demesne Star and Woodside at Dunfane leading to the match being abandoned and afterwards Broadway Celtic needed police protection at a game in Ahoghill after a loyalist crowd turned up.

In recent years Dale Farm were thrown out of the league after loyalists caused difficulties during matches in Harryville involving Broadway Celtic and a team from Ardoyne.

Brian Montgomery said he was angry and sad at the latest developments.

"It is sickening what is happening. We managed to get through the worst of the Troubles without this sort of tit-for-tat situation coming to the league but in recent years it has reared its head.

"We were worried about Broadway Celtic's first match of the season in Harryville due to have been played today and when we spoke to the police about it they said the UDA were going to be present so a decision was taken to cancel the game between Harryville Homers and Broadway.

"At the same time we heard that a crowd was perhaps intent on causing more bother at the Demesne v Woodside match which suffered last season, so we decided to call that off too.

"People need to decide what is the best way forward for football in Ballymena," said Mr Montgomery.

In May a youth team from the mainly Catholic village of Carnlough pulled out of a Ballymena league after their minibus was attacked following a match in the mainly loyalist Ballykeel estate in Ballymena.

Away from football, the Ballymena area was the scene of a wave of sectarian attacks over the summer which took place amid a background of community tension surrounding band parades.

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