Linfield supporters demand answers from Irish FA

Linfield defeated Cliftonville 4-1 in last October's Shield semi-final
Linfield defeated Cliftonville 4-1 in last October's Shield semi-final

Angry Linfield fans are demanding answers from the Irish FA over the ongoing row over sectarian chanting and the banning of the ‘Billy Boys’ song.

Last week an IFA Appeals Board was forced to rescind fines imposed on the Blues and Cliftonville following alleged sectarian singing at last October’s County Antrim Shield semi-final.

The penalties were scrapped following a breach of procedures by the IFA’s Disciplinary Committee.

The Association’s Appeals Board also cleared Cliftonville of any allegations, but concluded there was “sufficient evidence” that Linfield supporters had involved themselves in breaches of the Disciplinary Code.

Since then the IFA has also banned supporters from signing all variations the ‘Billy Boys’ song.

In a statement released by the Linfield Supporters Advisory Forum (LSAF), Blues fans have demanded answers from the IFA.

“Firstly we would like to state that we as a group are totally opposed to all forms of sectarianism on and off the pitch and that we have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to banish this behaviour from our support which on the whole we have been very successful in achieving, except for some isolated incidents.

“Secondly, we have been working along with the IFA’s Community Relation department seeking support for our efforts in eradicating sectarianism from our matches, which at present is still work in progress.

“However, our efforts are seriously hampered when you consider the IFA’s factually incorrect statement and its nonsensical ruling on banning a melody, even when the associated lyrics have been changed to comply with the IFA’s Football For All message. This has generated a very high level of anger within the wider Linfield support.”

The Forum also insisted it rejects the assertion that there was “sufficient evidence” that Linfield supporters breached any IFA Code.

“Our anger stems from the assertion in their statement that Linfield supporters breached a disciplinary code based upon sufficient evidence,” the statement added.

“We completely and utterly reject this assertion out of hand and have the evidence to prove it. The PSNI at the game in question recorded the Linfield fans and issued a subsequent statement to Linfield FC and to this Forum’s officers that our fans were not guilty of any sectarian singing or chanting at the game in question.

“Given this statement by the PSNI we are now asking for the IFA to clarify publicly just what the specific breaches of the disciplinary code were. As the supporters being accused, we have a right to know what evidence led to the above statement. What is the sufficient evidence the IFA refers to and from what source does it emanate?”

Reflecting on the banning of all variations of the ‘Billy Boys’ song, the statement said: “We as supporters, fully recognise that certain words within the ‘Billy Boys’ song are totally unacceptable and as a result we have been working hard in the background to convince our supporters to change them. But to be then told that the melody itself is not permitted is quite frankly draconian not to mention ludicrous.

“It’s obvious that the Scottish Football Association considered the ‘melody’ ruling to be totally unworkable, so why has the IFA decided to implement a rule which will be impossible to police and will undermine the efforts of fans to embrace its Football For All message?”

The Advisory Forum said it would now await a response from the Irish FA.

“We as a forum for Linfield fans are incensed at being accused of being sectarian and breaching the IFA’s code of conduct, when the real evidence confirms the exact opposite. We are therefore calling on the IFA to make public all of the statements relating to this ruling.

“We are also calling on the IFA to meet with us as a supporters group to discuss the sectarian singing and chanting issue so that they can provide us with guidance to help us rather than make decisions which obstruct us.”