Football violence provides occasion for racist attacks in city

The violence surrounding the Northern Ireland- Poland match has taken on an added dimension with the news that up to a dozen homes (reputedly occupied by ethnic minorities) were targetted in the aftermath of the game. The earlier violence has been partially blamed by the PSNI on ‘Polish Nationals’ intent on causing trouble. As this article prior to the visit of Poland to Dublin for a friendly international last year illustrates, Polish supporters have earned an unenviable reputation for football thuggery in recent years.
However, the rioting by Northern Ireland fans after the game and the attacks on ethnic minorities will require a proper investigation by the PSNI to see if any specific loyalist grouping was involved. There is no doubt that an element of the Poland travelling support were bent on causing trouble- as the rioting in Windsor Park after the side went three-one down- illustrates. But other actions- such as the inflammatory graffiti targeting Celtic and Poland goalkeeper, Artur Boruc, in the days leading up to the match, as well as the attack on the linesman, Tates Avenue rioting and attacks on ethnic minority households, suggests there was a loyalist element which sought to use the occasion of this match to stoke up tensions and create trouble.
Indeed, the incidents were reminiscent of events almost exactly a year ago, when a loyalist element was blamed on using the much anticipated Cliftonville-Linfield Irish Cup semi-final to raise sectarian tensions. Within hours of that match, a mob viciously attacked a number of people in the predominantly catholic Castle Street area, and it was also revealed that prior to the match, the Cliftonville Manager, Eddie Patterson, had been sent a bullet in the post.
Whilst the Sports Minister has sought to blame an element of the Polish fans for the trouble (apparently for possessing an Eirigi flag???) perhaps when the dust settles he- and others- will look at the matter with a more level head.
In any case, the violence should not detract from a result which finally gets the Northern Ireland campaign out of the start blocks. Sixty miles south, the performance of the Republic of Ireland side provided a sober reminder to the optimists that Trapattoni’s team are far from the finished article, and with Italy just ahead, the road to South Africa has just got a little rockier.

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