Northern Ireland

Youth football match attack and sectarian abuse being treated as 'hate crimes'

Girdwood Community Hub in north Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell
Girdwood Community Hub in north Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell

A MAN suffered cuts to his face after an object was thrown at him following a youth match in north Belfast on Friday evening.

Police said a number of people were also subjected to sectarian abuse during the game at the interface Girdwood Community Hub pitches.

The incidents, which took place at a youth match between Ballysillan Swifts FC and St Patrick’s FC, are being treated as hate crimes.

DUP councillor for Oldpark, Dale Pankhurst said that during the match a large group of nationalist youths arrived and began hurling abuse.

“As the parents and players were leaving the pitch, they were called “Orange b***ds” before being attacked with bottles as they left," he said.

He said the match had to be abandoned due to fears for players' safety and that the attack was "just the latest in a long line of incidents at Girdwood".

"The site is also poorly secured and requires fencing and gates on all four sides. At the moment, the Antrim Road entrance has no gate thereby facilitating both the entry and the escape of these youths once they have committed an offence.

"This gap in security is unacceptable and must change given the health and safety implications for those using the site."

Calling on political representatives from the nationalist community to condemn the attack, he added it was "disgraceful that a site designed for shared usage is continually undermined in this way".

He said he would be asking council officers to urgently review CCTV footage.

SDLP councillor Paul McCusker said the party "condemns any form of sectarianism" and has been in contact with the PSNI to establish the full facts.

"Today we have been contacted by parents and residents who were in attendance last night and witnessed everything," he said. "All teams in north Belfast should feel safe no matter were they are playing football and it’s the job of all political leaders to help achieve this ... We need to work to help develop our local teams, not divide them.

"We will be meeting with the PSNI next week to get the full facts and would urge all political leaders to work together to help put an end to these incidents."

Two years ago, Grove United warned it was considering stopping using the site after its young players were confronted by youths who set off fireworks.

A PSNI spokesman said yesterday: “Police also received further reports that a number of people had been subjected to sectarian abuse during the game.

“Investigations are ongoing into these incidents, which are being treated as hate crimes.”

Police have appealed to anyone who witnessed what happened to contact them on 101 or anonymously on the Crimestoppers number 0800 555 111.