I’m sure for many of you, you don’t follow the Irish Premier League (yes it is the IPL, but it’s not that IPL). Currently it’s a 12 team division, the top division in Northern Irish football which is organised by the Irish Football Association – the IFA.
When I first started going to Irish League games, it was the late ‘80’s and the games I went to seemed to be exciting, have loads of goals, big crowds, hero’s and villains. My very first game was Glenavon v Linfield at Moruneview Park in Lurgan, where Da took my brother and I along… I’ll never forget it. In the middle of the first half, my brother turned around to Da and asked “Who should we support?” – without even blinking my Da said “anyone but Linfield.”
My brother took it literally that day & with a population of one to choose from, he set out on a lifetime of regret as a Glenavon supporter… unlucky. Whilst he was doing that, I became ‘daddy’s boy’ by supporting my Da’s team, Portadown. The Early ‘90’s saw the Ports & the Glens produce some of the best teams in the land and the Derby games at Boxing Day and towards the end of the season often saw League Titles won & lost.
Earlier this month, Portadown played Glenavon at Shamrock Park – the home of the Ports. The grounds currently have capacity for around 2600 people – a far cry from the days in the early ‘90s when 5-8,000 would turn out for Derby day battles in Mid Ulster. Even sadder was the fact that this game was never going to sell out despite the much reduced capacity.
The frustrating thing though was that it was made even harder for people to get to the game because it was classified as a Ticket Only event, which meant that floating punters couldn’t get tickets on the turn-styles and there were no cash turn-styles.
Now, typically, people in NI blame a Health & Safety Fascism for decisions like this, but I did a bit of digging on the rules of the IFA itself & discovered that that Irish Leagues are usually made Ticket Only due to their ‘Risk Rating’. For example, all ‘High Risk’ games are always All Ticket. ‘Medium Risk’ games however only become All Ticket at the agreement of the bodies involved in the decision making process – the clubs, the IFA, the Police and local Health & Safety officers from the local council.
Now, I don’t know what rating the recent Ports v Glens game was – no one at the Club seems to be answering my question on the online forum – but it would seem bizarre to me that it would be deemed a ‘High Risk’ game!! There is no history of trouble between the two supporters – sure there’s the occasional idiot (including Gary Hamilton), but that happens the world over – and it was never going to be a sell out anyways to demand a ticket.
It could well attract a ‘Medium Risk’ rating, however, the absence of trouble, the absence of a full house and it’s difficult to see why either the clubs or Police would demand an All Ticket requirement. So that leaves Health & Safety – would they?
Shamrock Park has recently been going through redevelopments – I say recently, but in fact the Chalet End stand has been in place for quite a number of seasons now and the new MET STEEL stand has been open for at least a season & half now. The grounds around both stands however do require more work to make them safer places (e.g. the front row of seats in both stands are to remain empty due to stone work at the front of both & the lack of a physical barrier between the supporters and the dugouts currently). However, does that justify making them All Ticket encounters?
I’d argue that these circumstances do not justify an All Ticket category for Ports v Glens games at either Shamrock Park or Mourneview. The clubs need to get together with their council representatives and have an open & honest discussion about idiotic bureaucracy. People can act like adults at a football match – even in the Irish League. The clubs need to demonstrate that they can police and maintain standards at the games themselves through good facilities and good stewarding arrangements and then they can relieve themselves of this crazy decision making.
It’s time to stand up.