AP front 1 - 2022

28 October 1999 Edition

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Orchestrated attacks on kids' soccer teams

By Pádraig MacDabhaid

A SOCCER COACH from East Belfast has told An Phoblacht that he believes sectarian attacks against children's soccer teams from nationalist areas are part of an orchestrated campaign by loyalists.

Last week we reported that two under-11 teams from West Belfast had a narrow escape when the referee discovered 400 masonry nails planted in the pitch, spikes up, during his pre-match inspection.

This week, we were contacted by a representative of another Belfast youth team. He described how members of three teams, all from nationalist areas, were attacked by a group of 60 to 70 loyalists in East Belfast.

The three teams - Rosario, Doyle Youth Club and Grosvenor Youth - between under-14 and under-16 age groups and all nationalists, were playing at Victoria Park in East Belfast near the loyalist Dee Street area on Saturday, 16 October. Usually the teams had entered via Sydenham Bypass but this entrance has been closed recently, forcing them to use the Dee Street entrance.

The coach explained that after the match, at around 11.30am, the teams went to the changing rooms. As they left, they were confronted by a group of 60 to 70 men, ranging from teenagers to adults, all wearing scarves over their faces.

The gang threw stones and bottles and shouted ``Fenian scum'' and ``Don't come back here.'' Two RUC officers then showed up in an armoured car. But the only ones that they threatened to arrest were the nationalist children, who were by this stage trying to defend themselves.

``This incident has brought a large number of queries from worried parents as these teams will have to play in loyalist areas next week and the week after,'' the coach told An Phoblacht.

The attack further highlights the sectarianism which is rife within soccer in the Six Counties. Why are there not more sports grounds which can be used for soccer within nationalist areas? Why, when there are pitches available in nationalist areas, do the leagues refuse to use them, and teams from loyalist districts refuse to play there?

Serious questions must be asked about those in control of leagues and pitches who put the lives of young children at risk.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1