Memories were certainly burnt deep into the fabrics of the Northern Irish people and it was not surprising that Boxing Day of 1948 saw violence coming to a head once again. This time at Linfield’s Windsor Park Stadium when fans were enraged at Belfast Celtic being given a penalty with Linfield winning 1-0. The pitch was immediately invaded, with the mob heading for Jimmy Jones, Celtic’s top scorer. He was dragged from the pitch and severely beaten up until his leg was shattered. That was the end of Jimmy Jones and also the end of Belfast Celtic.
That is not the only story of how a football team became extinct due to sectarian violence. Derry City FC founded in 1928, suffered the same fate in the late seventies when The Troubles had flared up in Northern Ireland once again. The team’s ground, Brandywell, was in the Bogside area, which was the heart of the battlefield for the Nationalists and the ranks of Stormont. The team was forced to move to Coleraine, 20 kilometers away for security reasons. After thirteen months displacement, the club formally requested to return to Brandywell due to the situation having improved. However,the IFA with its majority Protestant council refused to reinstate them, and due to dwindling crowds, Derry City had to withdraw from the league in 1972. The Political and social unrest affected football in the province in other ways too. The Northern Irish home internationals were played in England from 1971 to 1975 which undoubtedly impoverished football in more ways than one.
Unfortunately, it cannot be ignored that the football pitch has always provided a platform for supporters to express their religious and political affiliations and the game has been an instrument of division between the two communities from its beginnings. Will it remain that way? Time and history will tell.