A death threat to Cliftonville FC manager Eddie Patterson has underlined the vital importance of the Irish Football Association's community relations programme.
A bullet sent through the post to Patterson was intercepted at the sorting office in the run-up to last Saturday's Irish Cup semi-final – which Cliftonville lost 2-1 to Linfield FC – threatening efforts to reduce tension at the game, played on neutral ground at the Oval in Belfast. Further outrage was caused when a gang later attacked a predominately Catholic bar in Belfast city centre. Both the apparent death threat and the later violence drew strong condemnation from all quarters, and an outraged response from the IFA, which has been at the vanguard of efforts to promote positive community relations.
'No place in football'
IFA president Raymond Kennedy said: "These things have nothing to do with football, they have no place in football, and they have no place in society as a whole." Linfield manager David Jeffrey added of the threat to his opposite number at Cliftonville: "I trust the police will apprehend the idiot who has done this. Words like condemnation are an understatement."
The bullet incident and the semi-final defeat contributed to "a difficult time" for Patterson, whose side have also slipped from the top of the Northern Irish league following two defeats, leaving Linfield on course to claim their third successive league title. With four games to go, the new leaders must keep arch-rivals Glentoran FC – who they play at home on 12 April – in second place.
Meanwhile, the IFA vows to continue its sterling work in bringing fans from the Protestant and Catholic communities together. Chief executive Howard Wells said: "The association will continue to work with the wider football family and all key partners in Northern Ireland to build on this progress. The promotion of positive community relations at domestic level remains a top priority."
The IFA employs two full-time staff in its community relations department – Michael Boyd, head of the department, and Colleen Macauley, community relations officer – and they have set up a forum for clubs and supporters designed, in Wells' words, to "unite and empower clubs to help create a safe, fun and inclusive culture throughout local football". The recent Pass on the Passion marketing campaign has encouraged fans from all sections of the community to return to league games, and the widespread outrage over the Patterson incident shows clearly that Northern Irish football will not allow a minority of troublemakers to spoil everyone's enjoyment of the sport.
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