U17 team attacked by sectarian mob

By David Whelan

A NORTH Belfast football team has said they will no longer use a new £500,000 cross-community sports complex after their teenage players and supporters were attacked at the council-owned facility.

St Patrick’s Young Men Football Club are to stop all seven of their teams playing at the Hammer Complex on the Shankill after one of their sides was attacked by a sectarian mob during a match on Monday night (September 8).

Police had to be called after a number of cars were damaged when a large group, not affiliated with either team, threw stones and bottles at players and supporters of the Under 17 team. The group, which had gathered during the game, shouted sectarian abuse at St Patrick’s players and supporters before waiting outside on vehicles leaving the complex. They then pelted vehicles with stones and bottles forcing the team management to contact the PSNI to help escort them from the complex.

Since the incident, the South Belfast Youth League has suspended use of the venue for fixtures across all of its age groups pending a meeting with Belfast City Council due to be held this morning (Thursday).

St Patrick’s Club Secretary and Under 17 Manager Paul Hamilton said the atmosphere at the complex off Agnes Street was one of the worst he had ever encountered.

“Monday night was one of the worst atmospheres I have been involved in, I have never seen anything like it,” he said.

“It was just an ordinary league game but obviously word got round that St Pat’s were playing in the Hammer and a massive crowd aimed on causing trouble appeared. During the game I genuinely thought about pulling my players off because of the chanting and abuse that was being hurled at them but I didn’t want to escalate the situation. When we were leaving we didn’t realise that the crowd had gathered outside and were waiting on us leaving to pelt the cars with stones and bottles.”

Paul said it was a shame that the new state-of-the art facility would no longer be accessible to his team but that they had a responsibility to keep players safe.

“Our kids’ safety is more important than anything and thankfully no one was injured. By taking this decision as a club we can reassure our players, our parents and our fans that they will not be put back in that situation.

“However there now has to be questions asked as to why we can’t use or feel safe using a council-owned facility. The Hammer is probably one of the best pitches in and around the north and for us to not be able to use it is a sin.”

The state of the art centre is widely used by schools, groups and individuals from across the community. Last year £509,000 was spent on revamping the complex with a new full-size 3G pitch and floodlight facility through funding from Belfast City Council, the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Department of Social Development.

Belfast City Council declined to comment on the attack at their premises. When contacted a spokesman said: “Belfast City Council leases the facilities at the Hammer to Shankill United FC, who are responsible for all aspects of the site’s management.

“Therefore, it would be inappropriate for the Council to comment on individual incidents at the facility.”

A spokesperson for Shankill United said that they were unaware of any incident taking place but added that they would not want the actions of people renting the facility to reflect on the club.

“If sectarianism is creeping into it we need to flush that out immediately and stop it,” said Jackie Pollack, club secretary.

“If a league books our pitch and there is aggravation or trouble between two opposing teams or their supporters it’s up to them to get that sorted out.

“Obviously we have a responsibility to ensure the security of anyone using our facility and if any incident like this occurs we would welcome the opportunity to sit down as a committee and talk to the league and teams involved.”

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