The “pathetic” sectarian chanting which threatened to halt an Irish League match earlier this week could lead to intervention from FIFA, its vice-president has warned.
Jim Boyce described those who took part in the chants at Tuesday night’s County Antrim Shield semi-final, which Linfield won 4-1, as “idiots” and urged people of that mindset to stay away from football grounds.
Just 10 minutes before the end of the Linfield v Cliftonville match an announcer warned fans the game would be called to a halt if sectarian chanting continued.
Jim Boyce said the chanting was short-lived, but shouldn’t have happened at all.
News Letter sports reporter Alex Mills said from the confines of the press box no chanting was heard so it came as a surprise when the warning was made that play could be ended. Shortly after the warning was issued the shouting stopped.
One Cliftonville supporter said “two or three dozen” fellow supporters were singing pro-IRA songs but most other fans shouted them down.
Linfield supporters, according to one of their own fans, burned an Irish tricolour and sang ‘The Billy Boys’.
Sectarianism has no place in sport Boyce, a former Cliftonville chairman, told the BBC.
“Since stewarding was introduced at Irish League matches things have improved 90%, it’s nothing like it used to be in the past, but it still should not have happened,” he said. “Players on the pitch of all religions should not have to listen to these idiots and if they want to indulge in sectarianism, then they should stay away from football grounds.”
But while saying the situation has improved Mr Boyce said fines, the usual way sectarian behaviour and chanting is punished, are now “a waste of time”, and listed other measures which could be put in place if sectarianism continues.
He said: “Options being discussed for the future include the closure of sections of the ground where this behaviour occurs, ordering games to be played behind closed doors and, if it continues, points could be taken off clubs. People who indulge in this behaviour don’t care about fines.”
Mr Boyce added that he admired referee Hugh Carvill for taking a stand on the issue, and ordering the announcer to warn the game could be halted if the singing continued.
Lifelong Linfield fan Ivan from Dundonald, who did not want his surname used, said the situation had been blown out of proportion.
“In the real world this type of thing shouldn’t happen,” he said. “But we need to look how far we’ve come. Out of a crowd of 3,000 there were probably about 500 Linfield supporters singing in the Kop.
“You’re dealing with a minority in a very low overall number. Sometimes people just get carried away with the atmosphere.”
A statement on Linfield’s website said: “Linfield FC condemns unreservedly the distasteful sectarian chanting from a very small minority of those claiming to support both sides during sections of last night’s County Antrim Shield semi-final tie against Cliftonville at Windsor Park.
“This club has worked hard and will continue to work hard to oppose sectarianism and any other forms of intolerance which have no place in our game.
“The sectarian chanting was from a very small minority of supporters of both teams and this should not detract from the excellent behaviour of the vast number of Linfield and Cliftonville supporters who were able to support their team in the proper manner.”