Give a dog a bad name?

A picture is worth a thousand words in the media, especially if it’s one that can reinforce a popular stereotype. In this case, it’s Linfield fans as a horde of troublemakers. The incident in Dublin involving Linfield fans at the Setanta Cup clash against St Patrick’s Athletic comes hot on the heels of media reports of Linfield fans’ alleged involvement in a throat-slashing attack in Belfast.The various inaccuracies of the reporting of the Belfast incident have already been discussed at length here but it seems that event has certainly coloured the reporting of the incident in Dublin during the week.

The Irish Independent, flush with its bloody photo-op, gave several pages over to the incident and reported that:

ugly scenes involving visiting fans overshadowed the visit of Marco Tardelli to Richmond Park for the Setanta Cup clash between St Patrick’s Athletic and Linfield last night. Some members of the large group of Linfield supporters who travelled from Belfast clashed with gardai and were escorted from the ground before kick-off as a heavy security presence descended on Inchicore for the eagerly anticipated encounter.

This is in complete contrast to the statement put out by St Pats:

Last night St Patrick’s Athletic hosted over 800 travelling Linfield fans to Richmond Park. This travelling fan base, one of the largest to visit Richmond Park in recent years behaved impeccably over the night and gave their team great support.

One incident where two Linfield fans were ejected from the ground following a scuffle with gardai was captured by the press and the resulting images shown in the national media may have given the impression of more widespread trouble occurring at the match which was simply not the case. The match night arrangements ensured that fans were successfully segregated at the game itself and also when leaving the stadium.

While St Pat’s fans were maintained in the ground Linfield fans were escorted directly to their buses. A small group of Dublin youths did appear in the area as the match finished, these were not supporters of the club and had not attended the game. With the home support being kept in the ground and the street outside the ground clear this group was easily identifiable to the gardai and were ordered to move on. One of this group was subsequently arrested for criminal damage to a wing mirror of a car. No further arrests or instances of match-related trouble are understood to have been reported to the gardai in the area.

St Patrick’s Atletic Football Club would like to thank both sets of fans for their patience and co-operation as well as our match night security teams and local gardai for their excellent work on the night.

The Irish Independent revisited the incident today albeit from the angle of whether an all-Ireland league is worth the price. The incident in Inchicore was afforded the minor news value it merited but the article did raise a valid point regarding any future all-Ireland league or a Setanta Cup involving Shamrock Rovers or Bohemians.

Strong links between Linfield and Drogheda, to name just one example, have been built up through this competition. With two groups of people from very different cultural backgrounds — albeit with much in common through football — growing understanding will take time. As always, it’s the actions of a minority that drag down the rest.

The counterpoint is that the biggest test will not be encountered until Bohs and Shamrock Rovers qualify for the competition. Both clubs have a youthful minority of ‘fans’ that cause trouble — hence the police frenzy that surrounds their clashes — so any game between either club and Linfield would be subject to the same attention as Tuesday night.

Those games would need to pass by smoothly, not just once, but on a regular basis to convince that an AIL is viable.

The problem is that like Bohs and Rovers, Linfield seem to attract their fair of troublemakers too. As Linfield club chairman Jim Kerr said after the Pat’s game.

I saw people at the grounds I have never seen before in my life being aggressive to security staff. I condemn it utterly.

Kerr may condemn it just like Bohs and Rovers condemn their thuggish element but a meet-up between these sides will be the litmus test as to whether a future all-Ireland league could survive.

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