B Y evan short
Self-appointed loyalist leader Willie Frazer has denied the disturbances that saw the cancellation of the Crusaders Cliftonville game last weekend was a flag protest, and claimed he wanted the game to go ahead because he didn’t want to see politics “get into football”.
The Armagh activist told the North Belfast News he was only outside the ground because he had been asked by residents to attend after the PSNI moved to clear the road.
Hitting out at the “heavy handed” policing he said he witnessed, Willie said that “ongoing issues” with Cliftonville fans had sparked the protest, but conceded that some loyalists were protesting simply because they didn’t want nationalists in their area.
“I was at the City Hall and I got a phone call saying ‘Willie, would you come over because the police are being very heavy handed at a protest against the Cliftonville fans coming down through the estate.’ I don’t know the area but by the time I got over the police were starting to push people off the road. That’s what I seen.”
Denying the turnstiles had been blocked, Frazer said it was his understanding everyone wanted the game to go ahead.
“I did not see that – there was nobody stopping them getting into the ground. All I saw was a white line protest Seaview protests ‘were not flag protests’ and some people standing on the footpath. The ones stopping them getting in seemed to be the police.
“If someone had said move it would have been accommodated.”
Asked to explain what trouble had been caused in the past by Cliftonville fans walking to the ground, Willie said if “people do their research” they would find evidence.
“I’m not saying they shouldn’t walk down, but there has to be a reason local people are objecting – its not simply because they are nationalist.”
Challenged as to whether this was the only reason for some of the protesters, Frazer conceded that it was “probably” the case.
“Yeah, probably being realistic and truthful.”
He also went on to reject the coordinated work done by both clubs to address residents’ concerns and to ensure that the match passed off peacefully..
“A very large number of local people are annoyed. The best way to proceed with this is to confront it and not try and blame (the protesters). There needs to be a genuine attempt to resolve the matter.”
He said those residents who took part in the engagement with Crusaders should speak to Saturday’s protesters whom he said must have been left out of the process.
Quizzed on the possibility of a future protest at a rescheduled fixture the flag protester said he would be there if called upon, but it was his hope the game would go ahead.
“These people protesting are Crusaders fans and they want to see the game go ahead.”
A PSNI statement rejected Willie Frazer’s claims stating that protesters were asked to move, and action was only taken when they refused to do so.
“On Saturday afternoon a small group of people chose to conduct a white line protest at the Crusader’s Football ground. After approximately 40 minutes they were asked to move away from the ground to ensure that fans were able to enter Seaview unhindered.
“Despite intensive efforts by police and football officials to negotiate a peaceful outcome, the protest did not move and as a consequence police had to move the protestors to ensure the safety of fans. As they did so, a number of protestors began to violently resist the police, and officers were attacked with bottles and other missiles. Upon learning of the public disorder, the two clubs advised police that the game would not proceed.”
Noone from Cliftonville FC or Crusaders FC was available to comment.